Elysium review

Can the District 9 director escape the dreaded sophomore slump with his second sci-fi flick?

Neill Blomkamp hit it big in 2009 with his debut feature, the apartheid parable District 9. Now he's back with yet another dystopian sci-fi satire, but will an extra dose of Hollywood star power allow Elysium to trump its well-respected predecessor?

By the year 2154 the very wealthy have finally become fed up with breathing the same air as the rest of humanity and have left the planet to set up home on a luxurious space station called Elysium (shades of Ben Elton's hit 1989 novel Stark). Meanwhile, Earth itself has become an overpopulated slum, rife with crime and disease and kept in place by a ruthless robotic police force.

When former car thief Max (Matt Damon) is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at his factory job, he learns that he only has five days left to live. Knowing that his only hope lies in the miraculous Med-Bays available to the citizens on Elysium, Max visits an old friend in the hope he can smuggle him up there. Yet to win passage to Elysium, Max has to help in a data heist, one that requires him being hard-wired into an exo-suit that boosts his physical strength. Then, when the stolen data turns out to be even more sensitive than expected, Max discovers that his troubles are only just beginning.

You'd be hard pushed to call Elysium a subtle film. Indeed, this isn't so much a movie that buries its political message in its subtext, but rather thrusts it into your face while shouting, 'Look at me!'. At times it's almost like a party political broadcast that has been tarted up with spaceships, exo-suits and super-powered scraps.

However, if you stomach the preaching then there's fun to be had. Most of the principal cast are on fine form (although Jodie Foster's villainous homeland security chief has the weirdest accent imaginable), the all-important action is first-rate and Blomkamp has once again surrounded himself with gifted artists, creating a spectacular sci-fi future that you can really believe in.

But perhaps next time he could leaves the political proselytizing behind. Or at least let somebody else write the script.

Picture: Sporting another of Sony Pictures' 'Mastered in 4K' transfers, Elysium certainly looks magnificent on Blu-ray. Right from the start you know you're in for a treat, as you're presented with a hyper-detailed cityscape on Earth before journeying up into the inky depths of space and zooming in on the crisply delineated space station, a sumptuous palette of green lawns and artificial blue skies.

This visual dichotomy is key to the film's aesthetic choices, with scenes set on Earth using a hand-held documentary style, and those on Elysium being more controlled and much smoother.

Sony's AVC 2.40:1 1080p proves equally adept with both styles, capturing the rough-hewn terrain and deep shadows of the former as easily as it does the clean lines and bold contrast of the latter. No matter where Blomkamp's film takes you, it always does so in reference-quality style.
Picture rating: 5/5

Audio: Elysium's DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundmix doesn't quite match up to the film's A-grade Full HD visuals. While use of the surrounds is well-balanced and deliciously nuanced, the track regularly feels like it's lacking serious low-end heft. Because of this, it never fully engages or pushes your entire speaker array in the way you might expect the soundtrack for a modern Hollywood action blockbuster to do. Subwoofer fanatics may be disappointed.

This is all the more frustrating because (as alluded to above) the rest of Elysium's mix is a cracker. From the ambush in Chapter 7 to the armoury shoot-out sequence in Chapter 14, this is a soundtrack that really delivers the goods when it comes to spatial effects and movement around the soundfield. On top of that, both the dialogue and Ryan Amon's music are delivered with care.
Audio rating: 4/5

Extras: Sony Pictures' disc sports a solid selection of extra features headed up by Visions of 2154. Split between Elysium and Earth, these Full HD animated galleries showcase the design of the film's locations, vehicles, weapons and technology through concept art, 3D models and visual effects progressions.

The three-part Journey to Elysium documentary (46 minutes) traces the making of the movie from pre-production to photography and post-production. Accompanying this are four additional featurettes looking at the cast (13 minutes); the film's robots, weapons and other technology (10 minutes), visual effects (11 minutes) and the contributions of legendary concept artist Syd Mead (12 minutes). Finally, there's a short extended scene.
Extras rating: 3.5/5

We say: A spectacular-looking BD platter for Blomkamp's heavy-handed sci-fi-action blockbuster

Elysium, Sony Pictures, All-region BD, £25 Approx