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Sci-fi with a message



The oppressed have no choice but to fight with the tools of the oppressors. This is why it's ok for anti-pipeline advocates to use motorized vehicles and manufactured plastics in their battles with the government/industry consortium that profits from such things. It's also why Matt Damon gets some ass-kicking robotics inserted into his body and goes after the super-rich-and-privileged in Elysium, the latest sci-fi moral tale from Neil Blomkamp (District 9) that opens this weekend at Whistler's Village 8.

Although the sci-fi genre has been around since film's inception it was around the time of the (alleged) moon landing in 1969 (and the shoddy U.S. governments of that era) that sci-fi filmmakers really begin to insert blatant socio-political messages and paranoia into their work. Movies like Fahrenheit 451, Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes and Blade Runner brought new social commentary to a genre that had previously been mainly about monsters from space and external threats.

We are the threat in Elysium. The title comes from the name of a giant, posh, earth-orbiting space station that houses all the rich and powerful while the rest of us wallow in the crime-ridden, toxic craphole that Blomkamp envisions for mid-22nd century earth. Elysium is like a gated-community paradise where every suite has a pool and a tanning bed-like machine that can cure all disease, including cancer.

Which sounds all the more appealing to ex-con Matt Damon after he receives a fatal dose of radiation at his job building robot-police, not to mention his girlfriend has a son with leukemia. As a last hope, Damon gets suited up in badass cyborg implants thanks to an underworld buddy and kicks off a plan to use the machines, and Elysium's own corruption, against the powers that be in order to get up to those healing machines and save himself and the kid. That he'll have to shoot larger and larger weapons along the way kind of goes without saying.

While Elysium, the satellite paradise-community, could have been fleshed out with a few more details (do people get bored?) Elysium, the film, is meaty enough to be considered a win. Blomkamp weaves a timely "haves versus have-nots" health care parable in amongst his explosions and subversion. It should appeal to enough of the Occupy Movement people so as to seem brilliant.

The characters certainly could have been more complex — there is no one in this film with an arc like Wikkus in District 9 — but the look and feel of the film makes up for it. Blomkamp hits us over the head with his messages and is none-too-subtle in his moralizing, but considering the amount of true evil already existing in industrial/government power systems of our own times, perhaps blatant is the best way to get the message across. For Science Fiction, Elysium does have an eerily factual feeling to it. This might be our future after all.

Also opening this weekend, Planes returns to the incredibly successful world of Cars, but this time the story takes place in the skies (and has Disney running the show without any of the Pixar talent that skyrocketed the Cars franchise). There were no prescreenings for this one, but apparently it's about an all-American crop duster with dreams of making his mark on the world as a race plane. That Dane Cook voices the title role ought to be warning enough, but get ready for 90 minutes of racial stereotypes and bad singing. Kids will love it because they love anything that looks like a talking toy with big eyes, but the magic of Cars seems to be lacking. Maybe a chem-trail subplot could have gotten this one off the ground.