When writer/producer Simon Kinberg (Sherlock Holmes) sat down with Spinoff Online at Comic-Con International, he was ready to unlock a few of the mysteries surrounding Elysium, the upcoming sci-fi film from Sony Pictures and director Neill Blomkamp (District 9).
He explained that the film, which stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, is a reflection and exaggeration of today’s world, where 1 percent of the world’s population owns the vast majority of its wealth.
“That 1 percent leaves Earth and they go to Elysium, up in space, to live there, where there’s clean air and great healthcare and no crime and no war,” he said. “The movie is about class, and it’s about that healthcare and it’s about people of Earth trying to illegally immigrate up to Elysium — to live up there and get themselves healed.”
While some of the same political elements that appeared in District 9 are present in Elysium, Kinberg said the future as Blomkamp has envisioned is unlike any audiences will have seen before. “It’s not like post-apocalyptic. It’s not Mad Max, but it is like if Los Angeles became Mexico City, if it became Johannesburg, if it became Rio — like a super-overpopulated, polluted place.”
Crucial to any sci-fi project is the construction and details of the world where the story takes place, and Kinberg recalled being impressed by Blomkamp’s visual attack on this process. “Neill sent me these pictures that were photos that he had taken, where he had combined, like, an image of Moscow with an image of New Delhi, or he had combined an image of a small village in Africa with the Hollywood sign behind it. It’s the collision of that sort of First [and] Third World that defines this world.”
Elysium also shares some of the visual traits of District 9, but Kinberg pointed out that the film doesn’t employ the same documentary-style approach. “It’s both similar to District 9 and different in that the stuff that takes place on Earth in Elysium has some of the gritty, handheld aesthetic of District 9,” he said. “The things that take place on Elysium are different. They’re more polished. They’re more refined. It’s not shaky handheld. It’s all sort of cleaner, and so it’s got sort of a dual filmic style.”
He described his time working with Blomkamp on Elysium as the most inspired he had ever been on a movie set. “I genuinely believe he could be one of – or the great genre director of our generation. I think he could be James Cameron. He could be George Lucas — one of those guys,” he said, adding, “He has the whole movie in his head, and it’s a complicated, big world-creation movie and he’s just got the whole thing mapped out and visualized in a way that is supernatural to me.”
As a writer who has frequently produced his own work, Kinberg was asked what it was like to produce another writer’s vision. “With someone like Neill, it’s a pleasure because he’s a great writer and he’s also very responsive and collaborative,” he said. “So if I had ideas or thoughts and questions, he was very open and he used me as a sounding board in terms of development of the script.
One of the few details about the film released prior to Comic-Con is that Jodie Foster plays the antagonist – an unusual role for the Oscar winner. “It was really important to Neill, for all of us, but it was Neill’s impulse to have somebody who was relatable and human and empathetic playing the villain of the movie,” Kinberg said, “and so we talked about a few different people. But Jodie was very quickly the only person that we really wanted.”
Kinberg also said that Blomkamp’s favorite movies are all science fiction, with Alien, Aliens and Blade Runner at the top of the list. “This is so different than those films,” he said, “but there’s something from those movies, I think, of like approaching science fiction in a very mature, serious way as opposed to just like a fun, popcorn-y way that I think infuses this movie.”
A unique marketing campaign, complete with an “immigration robot,” was unveiled at Comic-Con that offered attendees a chance to “immigrate” to the space station by directing them to the Elysium Citizenship Initiative. Kinberg said he and Blomkamp have been kept involved every step of the way by Sony’s marketing department. “They just really liked that robot for some reason, and so they ran with that as part of the campaign,” he said. “It’s been cool. You know, they had such a creative campaign on District 9, and they had such good success with that film that they’re doing similarly creative things with this film.”
However, Kinberg acknowledged it difficult to know how much to reveal in the promotion of the film, likening the process to creating a work of art.
“You don’t know if it’s good or bad, or if there’s too much imagination or not enough imagination [or] too much information or not enough information,” he said. “I feel like now, with movies, the process of making a film for an audience doesn’t end when you’re done making the actual movie and so I’ve been very involved in marketing campaigns.”
“We want to keep things secret,” Kinberg continued. “I think part of the fun of this movie is discovering it.”
Elysium opens March 1, 2013.