‘Freighted by the curious position that cinema seems to find itself in the summer of 2013’ – Elysium: The Art of the Film by Mark Salisbury (with a foreword by Neil Blomkamp)

etaotfA few short weeks ago, we reviewed a number of film tie-in books World War Z (which was sub par), Man of Steel (which was pretty good) and Pacific Rim (which was moderately impressive – but made less so by the fact that the film is a terrible piece of crap). Now we have Elysium: The Art of the Film which, as with Man of Steel & Pacific Rim is a fairly lavish coffee-table hardback full of big pictures, diagrams, call out quotes from the likes of Matt Damon and Jodie Foster and contextualising wordage from (we presume) Mark Salisbury.

Now. Books such as this are unlikely to be picked up by anyone other than fans – and when we say fans, we are not talking people who come out of the movie nodding and chuckling with their mates about how they liked the explosions. Books such as this are picked up by the kinds of people who buy more than one copy of the blu-ray when it appears (one to play and one to keep in cellophane on the shelf). Some of these fans (we say some to try and avoid offending everyone) have dubious critical faculties and can’t see bad even when bad is spelled out for them (I know this from the conversations I’ve had with fans of Pacific Rim who tell me ‘yes it has terrible characterisation and terrible dialogue and terrible plotting… that doesn’t stop it being a great movie’). So quite possibly the fanboy fans of Elysium will want this and desire this, much as Gollum coveted the one ring, irrespective of whether it is any good.elys 3

Another point to consider is: this has been a summer of disappointment for the big studios. All of their blockbusters have to a certain extent failed (even if the big studios know how to recoup their money on the foreign markets). There is much in the way of apparent soul searching going on at the moment. Where next for the big old fashioned blockbuster etc? (It’s quite simple, really – they either need to spend a little less on special effects and a little more on words and plot or – hell – spend as much on each and see what happens as a result – if nothing else, we might get the weirdest Terence Malick film ever, which would be something to see, right?). This is the world Elysium has landed in, a world in which special effects movies are more than likely to fail or at least disappoint in some way.

And what of Elysium itself? Blomkamp has proved – with District 9 – that he is capable, that he can put a modern, socio-political spin on sci-fi and horror elys1without forgetting that he is in the entertainment industry. Certainly District 9 is a film that repays a good couple of views, which is more than can be said for – ooh, about 90% ( at least) of films that are made currently. It isn’t utterly disposable, as so much is. And Elysium has promise. This is a class story – you have Elysium, a floating space station thing where the rich have absented themselves to, and Earth, a world abandoned, populated by poor workaday joes like Matt Damon, struggling to get by in the face of outrageous poverty. Pitched in this way, as sci-fi class war, any right minded individual would think ‘here is a film that could blow my socks off’. The fact that it doesn’t – quite – is down, in some senses, to Blomkamp’s ambition. It’s a little muddy, a little unfocused at times (like a man who loses his train of thought, shaking his head and saying, now where was I?) and a little peculiar (Jodie Foster’s accent is all we’re saying on that score).

Which leaves the book in a strange place. A book as lavish as this warrants a great film. Somebody somewhere should commission a series of lavish bookselys2 on films that we know have stood the test of time. Not academic books either – books as lavish as this on FILMS WE HAVE SEEN AT LEAST 100 TIMES. As it is, with Elysium: The Art of the Film, we get Blomkamp’s brief foreword (which is not without interest) and then sections devoted to everything from tattoos (Blomkamp has been reading his Nicolai Lilin) to vehicles, logos and various sets (favela, parole office etc). Along the way you see: dozens of pictures of similar robots, dozens of pictures of similar looking cars, dozens of pictures of similar looking robo-soldiers, dozens of pictures of guns, dozens of pictures of futuristic looking aircraft, quite graphic shots of brain surgery (you’ll understand when you see the movie) and lots of shots of Matt Damon looking all gung-ho, like a futuristic Jason Bourne (imagine Geiger adapting Ludlum for the twenty fifth century). And in truth, when you’ve seen one futuristic car or futuristic warship or futuristic gun, well, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Which may mean I am not the target audience for this but who is? Make yourself heard!

So. Interesting to a point. Glossy as all hell. But freighted by the curious position that cinema seems to find itself in the summer of 2013, gazing at its own navel and wondering how much longer it can go on spending exorbitant sums of money on films that have ambition but don’t live up to that ambition. Just as the big studios are having a rethink it might be time to rethink books such as this.

Any cop?: Genuinely hard to say. Not for everyone, sure. Possibly a good Christmas present for Blomkamp aficionados. Somewhat disposable and overblown (like the film itself). A curiosity. The last of a dying breed. Make up your own mind.


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