I just saw Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It does have some not-so-subtle messages about the Haves and Have-Nots, the role of robotics in society, and our overall duties (or lack thereof) in the care of our planet, but it’s really just one kick-ass action film once it gets rolling. Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-convict trying to go straight in Los Angeles in 2159 and just live his life. Orbiting the Earth is Elysium, the hi-tech orbiting station for the uber-rich — full of robotic servants, healing machines that cure everything including aging, and safety for all citizens. Those on Earth are not citizens of Elysium and do not warrant the medical wonders that the rich receive… so when Max finds himself in need of the life-saving medical technology, he makes a decision with consequences that place him right into the middle of fight between Below and Above.
If you haven’t yet seen Elysium and plan to do so, I recommend that you skip this review and come back to it after you’ve watched the movie. I’m going to be reviewing Titan Book’s Elysium: The Art of the Film by Mark Salisbury (and with an excellent Foreword by director Neill Blomkamp), and will be discussing some of the key characters as well as details related to key scenes, so spoilers are going to be flying left and right.
First, a simple overview: the book is a 170+ page full-color book filled with sketches, paintings, photographs, movie stills, and schematics of just about everything you will have seen in this movie. This includes ships, weapons, exo-suits, cars, grenades, and even tattoos. As with just about all of Titan Book’s Art of series, this book is a cosplayer’s dream, full of closeups of costumes and weapons and technology. But even if you have zero ambitions of recreating an exo-skeleton for Halloween 2013, any fan of Elysium will find the book an amazing resource, with plenty of chances of getting some up-close looks at things that often fly by in the film.
Take, for example, one of the robotic work force. In the film, you typically only get glimpses of them as they interact with the human population and only from a limited number of angles… and even then mostly above the waist in close-ups with the actors. But not here… now I get to see all the various company logos that adorn the robot (page 52) that an artist included for a more realistic commercial product… and on the facing page (53) is a full-color photo of the actual production robot created for the film (minus the dirt and scratches and overall beat-up look that just about every item in the film is given with but a few exceptions). Motion capture was used in certain scenes to give the robots more realistic motion, but actual full-sized props were created as well. Almost 20 full pages are dedicated just to the robots, with dozens of color sketches and paintings of all the various robots — police, factory, biohazard, and more. You’ll be surprised by just how much did not make it into the film — it’s amazing to see all the different artists involved and their vision of a robotic future.
But let me start back at the beginning of the book — The Foreword (written by Blomkamp) is a nice short essay to open the book and it mentions one tiny fact quickly:
We did upwards of three thousand distinct pieces of concept art on this film.
That statement is validated by everything included in the book. Starting with Chapter 1 that covers the vision of Elysium (the film, not just the orbital) and how the film was developed over a span of many years. Scattered in between small interviews with many people involved in the making of the film are details about casting, shooting locations, and set design. I’ve never been involved in the creation of a film, but reading through this section definitely gives you a much better idea of everything that’s involved in taking a movie from initial idea to final cut.
I’m a huge fan of Blomkamp’s earlier film, District 9, and it’s interesting to see just how much of the grit and feel of that film has made its way into 2159 Los Angeles. In both films, my absolute favorite stuff is the ships. With Elysium, these are human-built ships, and they run from the obvious cludged together versions that look like they’re going to fall apart to the smooth and sleek ship of the super-rich Carlyle with its design actually inspired (and exterior designed by) Bugatti. I knew the ship was Bugatti because I caught the flash of the Bugatti emblem (EB for Ettore Bugatti) in the movie, but until I read the book I didn’t realize that the car manufacturer had actually been invited to contribute to this aspect of the film!
Let’s jump to Max’s exo-skeleton. Want one? Well, there are enough hi-resolution photos and artwork on just this one element of the movie that any cosplayer won’t have any difficulty recreating it. So much of the exo-skeleton appears in flashes as the film progresses, but here you get a first-hand look at both the surgery (and thankfully a lot of that was cut from the film, apparently… very detailed closeups of the skull surgery and the bolting on of the frame to Max’s body. In some closeups, you can even see the actual part number on the various bolts used in the framework! In most instances, much of Max’s framework is seen only from the waist up, but the book offers more detailed looks at the lower back, waist, thigh, and lower leg components.
Weapons aren’t ignored one bit. Numerous side profile views that also include pre-distressing color schemes are provided — that awesome CHEMRail weapon that Max fires on Elysium is here as well as excellent closeups of the robot police officer weapons. They even put in Kruger’s four-shot missile launcher and a weapon that didn’t make it into the film, the Crowe Railgun.
Speaking of Kruger, his ship — the Raven — is covered in so much detail that I must have spent 30 minutes just examining the closeup details. I imagine there are some military folks out there also looking over this book and wondering what it would take to make some of these ships and weapons a reality. The Raven is given a lot of screen time, and the book includes numerous color schemes that were passed on in lieu of the standard camp job that was ultimately selected. I also expect to see some t-shirts soon with all the various ship and weapon manufacturer logos on them…
Of course, the book wouldn’t be complete without tons of sketches, paintings, fold-out pages, and stills of the orbital, Elysium. Not available in the film, readers will be given the number of inhabitants of the orbital and then told how the artists went about calculating how much space this many people would need and that in turn helped determine the “actual” size of the in-film orbital. Amazing stuff. There’s also tons of details that either fly by so fast in the film that you’re sure to miss it… or just never made the final cut. Products, toys, robotic servants, buildings, and much more.
I’ve reviewed a number of Titan’s Art of… series, and Elysium: The Art of the Film one stands as my favorite. It’s just an unbelievable amount of content for a two-hour film, and I’ve enjoyed being able to take my time and examine the details of the robot heads, the ship engines, and everything else that I wasn’t able to press the Pause button to check out. If you enjoy the movie and plan to add it to your library, you’ll definitely want to add a copy of this book to your shelf and see what you missed (because I can guarantee you missed a lot).
Note: I’d like to thank Tom with Titan Books for providing me with the review copy.