'Elysium' Footage: We Saw a Sneak Peek and Here's What We Learned

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Columbia Pictures

Nine months after debuting some promising snippets of footage at the Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego, writer/director Neill Blomkamp, stars Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley, and producer Simon Kinberg unveiled the first theatrical trailer for the director's highly-anticipated follow-up to 'District 9,' 'Elysium.' Not one but two auditoriums full of press and eager fans – in Los Angeles, and via satellite, Germany – saw the trailer and then looked on as the four collaborators discussed their work on the upcoming science-fiction film and unveiled more footage. And we there to relay all the juicy details.

Remarkably, if to fans of 'District 9,' perhaps not surprisingly, footage from Blomkamp’s new film inspired a wild sort of excitement that promises an ambitious, action-packed vision of the future with as much conceptual complexity as visceral impact.

The trailer itself simply introduced the universe within the film: a society of have-nots on Earth dreams of living a problem-free existence on Elysium, a palatial space station which orbits the planet. When a blue-collar worker (Matt Damon) becomes determined to get to Elysium – with no less than his life at stake – he finds himself being pursued by a deadly killer (Sharlto Copley) at the behest of one of the station’s supervisors (Jodie Foster).

Although this footage recalls the sort of world-building displayed in such recent action adventures as Len Wiseman’s 'Total Recall,' Blomkamp’s thoughtful, authoritative stamp dispels any fears that the film will simply be another effects-driven thriller with more money than brains. Rather, even within the short clip’s sweeping shots of fighting, shooting and driving, there’s a clear and substantive narrative drive; not simply content to engineer cool visuals or give action junkies an empty shot of adrenaline, even the shots in the trailer hint at Damon’s character as he fights not only for survival but for his identity -- not just as a human being, but one whose life has as much value as the wealthy denizens of Elysium.

Columbia Pictures

Following a short Q&A, Blomkamp premiered a “sizzle reel” of sorts – quite frankly, the sort of thing that one might have expected at Comic-Con, in terms of encapsulating both the film’s aesthetic and storytelling ambitions. Even in just a few clips, there’s a real humanity to the scenes that thankfully doesn’t allow the material to be too beholden to itself: where other science-fiction portraits of the future aim for a maudlin sort of self-seriousness, Damon demonstrates his natural comedic instincts in a way that makes the world itself feel relatable and lived-in.

Meanwhile, the technology in the film feels cut from the same cloth, so to speak, as Blomkamp’s vision of the future in District 9, not the least of which because they’re mostly set against the sociocultural backdrop of areas that look like third-world destinations. But flying vehicles, robots and a “third-generation Hulk suit” – a mechanical apparatus which gives Damon’s character superhuman strength – look just far enough forward from where we are now that it’s entirely believable that they can exist. At the same time, Blomkamp makes a few leaps into the glorious exaggeration of sci-fi, in particular with a scene where information from another character’s brain is downloaded into Damon’s, which are rendered in fascinating enough details that audiences will thrill to see them executed in the midst of white-knuckle set pieces.

It’s easy to be either too cynical or ebullient as a viewer of the footage showcases, because Blomkamp and the studio releasing the film, Sony, do indeed want to sell the film. But the question is less "how much information do audiences need to see in order to buy into the film?" than "how much do they want to learn before its secrets and surprises become too recognizable?" And (of course) without knowing exactly how much is too much, this early material from 'Elysium' at least seems to withhold enough that the audience will know what it’s in for without simply waiting for trailer moments to happen.

The first trailer for 'Elysium' premieres later tonight (Tuesday, April 9) and we'll be sure to have it up when it does. Check back soon. 

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