Film Rant Time: Elysium

I doubt this will be a regular feature here at Polar Bear Gamer but I felt it necessary for me to have a little talk about a film I’ve recently seen.

Elysium is a science fiction film directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame. The film is set in the not too distant future where overpopulation has split the world into two classes, a majority lower class who live in squalor on an overcrowded Earth, and a wealthy upper class that live on an orbital space station known as Elysium where they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle waited on hand and foot by robotic servants and (and this is one of the main points of the film) have excellent healthcare.

Matt Damon stars as Max, a lower class citizen with dreams of ascending to Elysium along with his childhood sweetheart Frey. But the years have torn them apart and Max is now a car thief on parole trying to earn an honest living. After an accident at work Max is exposed to a lethal level of radiation that is set to kill him in five days. Fortunately for him he gets given some magic pills that mean he will not suffer the effects until death (apart from when the plot requires it of course). Not wanting to die Max starts to concoct a plan to get to the one place that can save his life: Elysium.

As a set up it isn’t bad, magic anti sickness pills notwithstanding, and the images of Earth it portrays, with a crowded ghetto for L.A., look impressive and imaginative. I think the best part of the film is in the early stages and parts of the middle. But let’s get into the film in detail.

Ah I see the problem here. It's your acting, Matt, we might have to do a complete reboot of your acting circuits.

Ah I see the problem here. It’s your acting, Matt, we might have to do a complete reboot of your acting circuits.

Visuals

The film’s strongest area and I would expect nothing less from the director of District 9. The overpopulated Earth looks scummy but not so bad that you couldn’t imagine anyone actually living there. It looks like a slum in a third world country and that’s pretty much exactly what it’s meant to be. A brief bit of text in the beginning tells us that Earth’s population has exploded to unsustainable numbers. As a result Earth looks pretty much how you would expect it. The droids that make up the police, security, and apparently prison forces also look excellent and were probably my favourite part of the design, a shame they didn’t delve further into the robotics.

But to contrast, Elysium itself  is really, really boring. The idea of the orbital ringworld hovering above Earth like a moon is pretty good but every shot of Elysium itself makes the place look so boring, just the same area copied and pasted again and again. I would think that, given the technology to manufacture liveable habitats in space, humanity could have gone for some interesting designs but apparently everyone just wants to live in what seems to be the typical Hollywood enormous mansion with attached pool design.

The contrast is nice and the robotics look excellent but Elysium is just so boring that, aside from the excellent healthcare, it doesn’t seem like the Olympus or Asgard that they are trying to convey.

Elysium: Where aesthetics take a back seat to “Ooh quick, make everyone look rich!”

Characters

I’m going to include acting in this and since I already made a joke about it in an image above you can already guess at what I will say. Our protagonist Max is… boring. His motivation is justifiable, the desire to get to Elysium and to prevent his death, but so much more could have been done to flesh him out. Instead we basically just see Matt Damon being Matt Damon, which sometimes works but alas here does not. He’s very much a Hollywood protagonist with just enough flaws to seem human and rogue-ish. His love interest, Frey, has almost no character at all and we see this in her acting. Her primary motivation is looking after her daughter who has ‘advanced stage leukaemia’. Despite this, however, the daughter doesn’t look gaunt or sickly or anything, heaven forbid a Hollywood child look anything but cute in order to win over the hardened heart of the main character with a story about a meerkat and a hippo (Cue retching noises). Seriously that child should look skeletal by this stage.

Aside from them we have Jodie Foster playing Jessica Delacourt, the Elysian Secretary of Defense. Her speech is baffling with strange inflections and an unidentifiable accent that makes her sound less like a human and more like an alien that is infiltrating humanity and has only just learned how to talk. Her motivation is to take control of Elysium because the current government doesn’t want her blowing stuff up. The whole political plot on Elysium is really simplistic. She is aided by Agent Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley who you may recognise as Wikus van der Merwe from District 9, who is a psychopath and apparently the only Earth operative that Jodie Foster has. For some reason they’re pretty lax on security on Elysium. He plays his role well enough but there isn’t enough in the character to make it worthwhile, he’s just a typical psychotic agent character.

The only main character that I felt had some depth to him was The Spider, the head of a criminal organization that, among other things, deals with illegally ferrying people up to Elysium. He is the only character that’s really worth watching in the film and that actually has some depth to him. He gets demoted to more of a sidekick later in the film and that’s quite disappointing but the early and mid scenes with him are some of the better ones.

I’m on the lookout for prawns!

Plot

To warn you in advance you are now entering spoiler territory. I’ll do a quick summary of what I felt about it and give you a warning when I actually get into the spoilers.

The plot is very Hollywood with a simplistic “I need to get to X or else I/this small child will die!” with the added complication that Max is being hunted for some information he possesses. It’s pretty boring and generic with no real twists to speak of. It’s not hard to guess at what is going to happen next at any given point.

Here be Spoilers, Yarrr, Proceed at your own Risk!

Oh my but the third act to this film is boring, really boring. To give an added summary of what has happened: Max bargains with The Spider to get a ticket up to Elysium in order to heal his radiation poisoning, but in order for Spider to give him a ticket Max has to complete a job for him. Spider outfits Max with an exosuit that will allow him to be as strong as a droid in order to complete his job of capturing a billionaire and basically downloading his brain into Max’s. However, this particular billionaire is engaged in a coup with the Jodie Foster character and in his head has the code for a reboot program that has the potential to put anyone in charge of Elysium.

For obvious reasons, Jodie Foster wants Max for this information, after the heist goes bad and the billionaire defense contractor ends up dying. After an annoying scene where Frey manages to save Max’s life after what should have been a fatal stomach wound (Don’t worry, he’s up and about after a few hours, ’tis but a scratch), Frey and her daughter are captured by Agent Kruger. After discovering the bargaining chip he has, Max lets himself get caught and promises to give up the information in exchange for him being healed on Elysium. Things go south again and Max ends up crashing on Elysium with Frey, killing Agent Kruger, and getting caught again. Spider manages to sneak onto Elysium in order to bust Max free but the newly revived Kruger (They play fast and loose with the whole immortality thing in this film, Kruger can basically get resurrected after having most of his head blown off but a being shot in the chest, ain’t no coming back from that) outfits himself with an exosuit and kills most of the crew.

The whole film ends with Max defeating Kruger, getting to the core to unleash the reboot program, and him sacrificing himself after giving this pointless and boring speech to Frey, and making Spider the new president of Elysium and turning everyone on Earth into Elysium citizens. As a result medical robots and ships are automatically dispatched to Earth to cure everyone’s illnesses.

Everyone’s illnesses.

Everyone.

Maybe ten or twelve billion people.

HOW DOES THIS HELP ANYONE? THOSE SHIPS COULD MAYBE CARRY FIFTY PEOPLE EACH, IT WOULD TAKE FOREVER!

I don’t understand the end of this film. It’s stupid. There is a reason that Elysium exists, as far as we are aware, there are not resources enough for everyone. I understand the whole social commentary thing but if your commentary’s solution doesn’t make sense then what have you really said? They never really address the issues of technology in this film (Like how a rocket launcher can produce enough energy to fire guided rockets into space, or where the hell Elysium gets its energy from) but we can quite clearly assume that this is not the Culture, it is not a post-scarcity society and resources still need to be managed. Maybe if we saw more of Elysium we would see people leading decadent, wasteful lives and use far more resources than necessary that could be put to better use. But we don’t, we see almost nothing of Elysium itself so I’m just going to assume that these people are normal people that are under the constraint of the resources available. So suddenly giving everyone access to these resources would end up destroying the planet and the sanctuary of Elysium. I’m not trying to justify the vast gulf between the classes that the film portrays but I’m suggesting that the solution given by this film makes no realistic sense.

The plot is boring and ends up not really making much sense. And yet most of what happens in the film is bent in order accommodate the plot. Our technology says we can make people immortal but we want to kill this character off, whelp let’s just pull the magic plot lever that makes everyone forget the technology. Seriously that annoyed me. The film does give a brief explanation saying that Kruger still has some brain activity but that’s just nonsense. No one in the state that he was in can have brain activity and if he does then someone just getting stabbed in the neck should be fine.

Spoilers end here, along with hope for this film.

Tell me it ends soon!

Themes

Elysium is a science fiction film and as such is used in order to give a social commentary on current issues. Issues such as immigration, class division, Healthcare, overpopulation. And yet it gives no real solutions to the problems it raises. Mostly what the film says about these issues is this: They exist. Yes they exist, we know they exist, the question is what do you think we should do about them? As far as immigration goes this film seems to suggest that a “We should let everyone in” solution is the best. I’m not the sort of person that hates immigrants and thinks they should go back where they came from but I also don’t think that “Let everyone in!” Is the right solution. It’s a really simplistic idea that just doesn’t stand in reality.

As for healthcare, I’m English and so have access to the NHS. It’s not a perfect system but I’m much happier knowing that I live in a country with free healthcare. This is probably more of a contentious issue for American audiences given the frankly shocking healthcare system they have. But Elysium, as with its other themes, offers no real solution to the problem it raises. The film doesn’t tell us enough about the issue of resources in order for us to judge whether or not another healthcare system would be viable. It just gives us a very simplistic outlook.

Class division is an interesting and very relevant issue and the film seems to end up favouring the idea of a classless society (I wonder how that stood with die-hard capitalists). Yet the issue is not viewed with enough detail. According to the film poor = good and rich = bad. This is because all we see are the people suffering on Earth and we see almost nothing of the people on Elysium. Seriously, we only meet about five people who live on Elysium and they are all government workers. Is this film really trying to tell me that not one person on all Elysium thought “Hang on, maybe we should do something about the billions of people suffering.” Not one rebellious teenager decides it isn’t fair? Not one charitable soul exists on the whole of Elysium. To put things in perspective: in English history the era with one of the biggest divisions between class was the Victorian era. During this time one of the very popular activities that higher class ladies would get involve with was charity work to help the poor. It just happened like that. I fail to believe that Elysium is that far removed that no one would wonder about the plight of those below, not even a little.

Finally, overpopulation is a big issue and one that does need to be addressed but Elysium doesn’t suggest anything about this. Despite it being the major issue of the film there doesn’t seem to be any birth control laws on Earth or Elysium and if the population has reached the stage that people have constructed a place to house people in space you would think that something would be in play to try and stop the population growth. It’s the uncomfortable thought I had through the whole film that we’re meant to root for all these people to survive despite the film warning against overpopulation. At least the film isn’t suggesting a cull but it does send some mixed messages about what exactly we should be doing.

One of the more interesting characters in the film is an animatronic parole officer.

Final Impressions

If you’ve made it this far into my little rant then you are a trooper and deserve your very own gold star… there you go, just for you.

Do I regret seeing the film? Well, it’s not a film I want to see a second time but I can at least appreciate some of the ideas and spectacle. That being said it is a major disappointment for me considering how much I enjoyed District 9. It feels like the ideas that created District 09 were here but had Hollywood Executives’ greasy fingerprints all over it to the point that it became unrecognisable. It’s a very generic film with lots of clichés and not enough interesting areas to make up for it .

Final verdict: Generally poor with a few mediocre moments.

The prawn is not happy about what happened here.

The Last Door

I stepped back from the window, tearing my gaze from the forest before the house. The crows had settled once more, I could feel their beady eyes watching me. But I cared not for I am a great big polar bear. 

It’s been a little while since last I wrote. There are several reasons for this including mild depression and the fact that I will be moving house soon. But enough about that, let’s just get right back into the swing of things with The Last Door.

The Last Door is a point and click (I know, so unusual for me) horror game set in 1891 in Britain. In it you play as Jeremiah Devitt, a young man who receives a mysterious letter from an old friend from his boarding school telling him to come to his house at once. When Jeremiah arrives he finds the place oddly deserted and beings to uncover clues that talk of strange happenings. The beginning of each chapter also shows us a little hint of what is to come with the player controlling a different character who is in the throes of a disturbing act.

The game is episodic with chapters 1 and 2 already released and chapter 3 is in the works. It is very clear that the developers took influence from the contemporary horror writers of the era (There’s even a nice H.P. Lovecraft easter egg in the second chapter). It does a very good job of creating that sense of the Victorian horror story with underplayed tension and this constant air of mystery that keep you enthralled.

Despite the fact that it’s a comparatively tiny number of pixels it also manages to look pretty awesome

The game has a retro pixellated art style (Hey, I’m not sick of it, I think it looks good), yet has more modern lighting effects which to a fantastic job of building on this tense atmosphere. It’s not always obvious what an object may be but if you can’t work it out and if Jeremiah isn’t going to tell you then it’s really not important enough to merit it. Besides, it’s much easier to get lost in the sets and backgrounds than in the tiny details.

The sound is also fantastic with all the effects keeping the theme alive and an original score which is available to download for those who help support the game. The music is excellent and helps heighten the creepiness and the tension. It’s not a frustratingly difficult game and most of the puzzles are fairly logical, if occasionally esoteric. More attention has been given to the atmosphere and the lore.

But what’s more important in a horror game than the scares. The Last Door does well in evoking the older style of horror stories where unsettling creepiness is given priority over jump scares and gore. There are some gore-scare moments but they’re few enough that when they appear they are genuinely scary. If you like a more sophisticated sort of horror then you’ll enjoy the horror in this game.

When you’re on your own in a spooky cellar with only a lantern to see by, it’s always handy to grab a crowbar (Best tool in any game)

So are there any problems with it? Well nothing that really breaks the game for me. Some of the subtitle errors are distracting but considering it comes from a non-English developer that is easily forgiven. Other than that the only problem I have is the problem I have with all episodic games. There is always this need to build up the tension but there is little payoff since it is waiting for the next chapter to explain more.

For someone like me who enjoys getting sucked into a story it’s a little jarring to have to put it down and come back to it later. Yes you can make arguments about savouring a good thing and there are technical justifications, the game is still being made after all. Nevertheless part of me wishes that games like would just be released in one go to really keep you hooked to the story.

Creepy boarding schools/hospitals for the win!

The game is still being developed and they are asking for donations at their website (Link below). You can play the first chapter for free and can donate any amount to unlock the next chapter or there are a few reward schemes for higher donations including access to all future chapters and the excellent soundtrack.

If you enjoy classic horror then I really recommend giving it a go and sending some money their way. These developers have an excellent grasp on what makes a good adventure game and what makes something scary. The whole game has this oppressive, unsettling feel that only gets heightened as the chapters progress. Give it a go and I urge you to help fund more.

Link to the Website