17th November 2012
Elysium– Directed by Kwon Jae-woong. Voiced by Kim Jang , Kim Jeong-ah , and Lee Jae-yeong — Running Time: 75 minutes, Released in theaters: August 15, 2003>
The Earth in the year 2113 is a very different place than now. The world has a space fleet and meets with ambassadors from other planets. Sentient robots are commonplace and anti-gravity cars and motorcycles are available to everyone. Some things, however, remain the same. Pizza deliveries still occur <in under thirty minutes or less> and sporting events remain popular. The sporting event of the day is Turbo Pinball Racing where contestants on custom designed hover bikes speed through an trecherous course that looks for all the world like a cross between a roller-coaster and a titanic pinball machine. To win this race is young Van’s dream. He works in a pizzeria as a delivery boy and prides himself on his speed and ability to handle his bike in traffic. He is also in love with the beautiful Lydia, a dancer, who is fully supportive of boyfriend’s ambition.
At the same time that Van is preparing for his big day, two seemingly unrelated events take place. The first is the mysterious circumstances involving the death and disappearance of research team at the South Pole who were sent to investigate reports of a living fossil in a chamber beneath the ice. The other event is the destruction of a spaceship carrying Amabassador Yaspe of the planet Elysium on a peaceful mission to meet with Earth officials. His ship was destroyed by the very space station he was attempting to dock with. The Elysium are quick to respond and completely destroy the station and declare war on the Earth without ever learning that some outside force had taken control of the station and caused the weapon systems to fire on the ambassador.
The attack occurs just as Van is about to win the Turbo Pinball race. Fiery death rains down from the sky as the Elysium call for the end of the human race for the violent ways. Millions die in the initial attack and even more fall as the aliens send swarms of spider robots and elite warriors wearing giant robot suits of armor to elimate the survivors. The humans that were not killed in the initial strikes are forced to live in underground shelters while the Earth Defense fights a losing battle against the attackers. Van and Lydia take shelter in one such place, but as time passes, Lydia starts to pine for the sun prompting the pair to risk a trip to a grassy hillside where they used to date. Unfortunately, their timing was bad and they are caught in the crossfire between the armies of Earth and Elysium. Kronos, wearing the armor of a giant warrior, takes aim and kills the fleeing young woman leading to a change in gentle Van. In mourning and bearing a deep hatred for the Elysium, especially Kronos, he joins the resisting forces. However, in what seems to be his first mission, his entire squad is wiped out except for Van who is saved at last minute by first Nix, a platinum-haired beauty from Elysium and then the mysterious Son-ra who teleports Van to her base beneath the sands of a wasteland. There, Van joins Paul and Christopher as part of Son-ra’s last line of defense to keep the powerful Triad Weapon out of the hands of General Necros of the Elysium.
I have no doubt at all in my mind that the creators of this film were hoping for it to evolve into a television series. One of the reasons I say this is, despite the resolution of the main conflict, a purpose is set up for the Four Knights of the Triad to remain together. But the other reason I believe they hoped it continued was the fact that so little time was spent on some pretty major characters, Christopher and Son-ra in particular. We know virtually nothing about Christopher except that he was an officer in Earth’s spacefleet before the attack by the powerful aliens ever occured. We know even less about Son-ra. It would seem that she is of the Elysium which would explain her advanced technology, knowledge of Nekros– the leader of the Elysium forces– and her apparently long life beneath the sands. But we have no idea when she came to our world or under what circumstances. It looks as if she could have been there for thousands of years.
Paul gets a little more attention, primarily because he is the identification figure for the target audience. He is very young, just on the borderline of becoming a teenager. And he is extremely headstrong and aggressive for his age. No reason is given for his desire to constantly fight but it seems far more than simple rage. His companion, the robot Oz, keeps a tally of his win loss records and we learn that before the Earth was ever under attack, Paul had been in nearly 2000 fights and won the vast majority of them. Since Son-ra speaks of her knights as being ‘Chosen’ –beings who possess the necessary DNA to unlock their own giant robot armors– I have to assume the fighting is something built into his genes that speaks of genetic manipulation by the ‘good’ branch of the Elysium. Oh, speaking of Oz, he is the mandatory annoying and/or cowardly sidekick that animated heroes often seemed to have. Robot Taekwon V had Tin Can Robot, He-Man had that little magician, the Thundercats had Snarf, and many versions of the Power Rangers have some kind of goofy robot that makes comments only a three-year old would find funny. Oz was formerly a robotic vaccuum cleaner, but Paul’s mother upgraded it to house and advanced super-computer. She should have done a better job with the programming though.
Robots in the future can lie directly when asked a question, even one posed to them by their owner. Oz’s ability to lie to perceived enemies is not surprising especially if Paul’s mother had designed Oz to protect her son. However, Oz also lies to Paul’s mother and hides the fact that Paul is going to the Turbo Races — an activity that his mother had deemed to dangerous for her son to attend. Oz also frequently has self-doubt and appears to be more than able to act autonomously, as do all the robots in the movie. I found myself questioning just who was in charge of the world–humans or robots? In the pizza parlor, the robots do all the cooking under the supervision of a human manager, however a human does the dangerous work of delivering the pizzas. The Pinball Races are manned by humans and the fiery, explosive crashes imply fatalities. However the announcers at the sporting event are robots, excitedly cheering on the violence.
It seems like the world is a very violent place. But what of the Elysium? These aliens, in the name of peace, announce a genocide. They do not want the planet to surrender or to give up its violent ways. They opt to kill every man, woman and child alive to make the galaxy a safer place. Of course, they are being tricked by the evil General Nekros but the fact remains that is a rather extreme retaliation for the death of their ambassador. Nix and Kronos, are given some depth of character as they begin questioning orders, but both are guilty of killing unarmed innocents before their change of heart starts to take root. I also appreciated that not everything worked out in a predictable fashion in the conflict. For example, Van desires vengeance on Kronos for killing Lydia, however fate has other plans for Kronos that denies Van the chance he seeks.
As far as production values go, Elysium is a mixed bag. In places, the animation is excellent, especially in scenes where Nekros becomes active. In other places, like the general motions of the humanoid characters, it seems stiff and unrealistic. Of course, I am looking at it ten years after its release and computer animation has made unbelievable leaps in that time, so I am not going to be too critical of that. I am a little critical of the English subtitles, however. Spellings were inconsistent.. I really have no idea if the machine was actually called a Triad or a Triod. Also, some major characters like Son-ra and Lykros go unnamed until the credits. We are told the name of characters who have one line before dying or disappearing from the story like Kudos and Stacy, but we have no idea what the of the woman who founded the Four Knights was called until the end credits roll.
Elysium is a movie that would have benefited from a little more time tacked on to its short running time to give us more information on the background of the characters and the world they live in. As it was, it was impossible to become emotionally invested. On the other hand, the length of the film does manage to keep the plot moving and the film is never dull despite some childish moments. I may be in a minority complaining about these as the DVD box proudly proclaims that this film opened in ten European countries and won an ‘Audience Favorite’ award in Russia. According to Daum, Elysium is now being remade as a live-action film in the USA directed by Neill Blomkamp <District Nine> and starring Matt Damon and Jodi Foster to be released in 2013.