The tense, brutal future, mastered in 4K
Relentlessly tense, palpably gritty and innovatively action-packed.Neil Blomkamp's sophomore sci-fi actioner - after his highly-acclaimed debut, the equally dirty District 9 - confirms his position as a filmmaker to keep your eye on. Indeed, considering his now-evident trend for dystopian sci-fi action infused with Cronenbergian body-horror, riding atop a thinly-veiled socio-political commentary, it's a surprise nobody tipped him to helm the upcoming Robocop remake (which now looks woefully impotent under the restrictions of its recently-revealed PG-13 classification).Blomkamp, whilst never even coming close to Verhoevian levels of ultra-violence, still makes features which are unequivocally adult, both in content and, perhaps more importantly, in tone. His desperately reluctant heroes live in - and go through - absolute hell on their journey, and it's nice to find that this isn't the usual tween-demographic hell many features are neutered by, but instead a place where you could easily get your face blasted off by a grenade.
Of course it's his socio-political bent that distinguishes his films from the majority, lending this engrossing, tense, and action-packed sci-fi thriller that added level of depth. That and the fact that his grimy, dirty films seldom pull their punches - there are no heroes here, no flesh is sacred, and no Hollywood audience-friendly sensibilities will be appeased. This is big boys’ rules now.
Far from a flawless masterpiece, Elysium is still undoubtedly a must-see effort; one of the best sci-fi films of the year.
Visionary visualsElysium is one of the best-looking titles currently available on the format, promoting a stunning ‘mastered in 4K’ 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 widescreen. Detail is magnificent, offering pinpoint precision across the varying landscapes, from the ravaged dystopia of Earth to the seemingly perfect utopia of Elysium itself, with fantastic close-ups and skin textures, detailed clothing weaves, and wondrous background examination, bringing every shot to life with superb visual observation.
Elysium is one of the best-looking titles currently available on the format.
The colour scheme is wide-ranged, taking in the sand-dominated, barren Earth, thick with browns and greys; through to the lush greens, crimson automated assault police and clinical interiors of Elysium itself. The image pops in every shot, with so many evoking a freeze-frame, picture-perfect look which simply never falters, never stumbles, and comes completely devoid of any edge enhancement, noticeable DNR over-application or other digital defects, like artifacting, blocking or banding. Given the largely gritty, brutal nature of the piece, it’s no wonder that grain is prevalent, but it comes in suitably filmic style, adding a thin veil over what are still stunningly perfect visuals, clarity resounding beneath the aesthetic veneer. Demo and reference-quality through and through, this is an assured perfect-10 score.
Bombastic audioElysium boasts an equally tremendous aural accompaniment in the form of a potent DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which, as with the video, resounds as one of the best that the format currently has to offer. Dynamically stunning, and utterly immersive from start to finish, the audio promotes the movie superbly, pushing the technical limitations of the format at every turn, and delivering wondrous results. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently above the rest of the proceedings, dominating the frontal array wherever necessary, and never feeling drowned out by the bombast, of which there is, of course, plenty.
Marrying up to the perfect visuals, the score furthers the stunning, immersive quality of this release.
Effects are myriad, and range from the thunder of overhead hover-ships, the rocket drives of shuttles and the powerful, relentless impact of a whole host of futuristic weaponry. Gunfire seems positively feeble against the various future-style munitions on offer, with body-shredding explosives and a stunning rail-gun simply lighting up the stage. Ships land behind you, weapons fire blasts out the walls beside you, and explosions detonate beneath you, all with the eager input of the LFE channel. Besides being wonderfully immersive, and crafting a heady atmosphere, you never get the feeling that this is blunt force trauma – this is as precise as it is powerful; a sharpshooter with a .50 Calibre sniper rifle firing explosive rounds that, time and again, hit their target dead-on. And despite my reservations about the jarring score, which simply does not marry up to the quality of the film that it accompanies, even this is given room to perform across the array. Sony have knocked this baby out of the park – demo- and reference-quality throughout, it’s a fantastic track.
Locked And Loaded ExtrasThe extras are largely Featurette-based, but each and every Featurette is both hefty and of value, and they cover all the key bases – pre-, production, and post-; cast, effects and set design. Visions of 2154 boasts an interactive exploration of the art and design of Elysium, which offers up video clips, behind the scenes footage, concept art, and 3D modelling and visual effects dissection, accessible through a simple user interfact. The Journey to Elysium is three-quarters-of-an-hour in length, and split into three distinct sections – Envisioning Elysium, which looks at the pre-production origins, the concept art and script development, as well as the futuristic design work; Capturing Elysium, which at almost half an hour in length, dominates the proceedings, and looks at the distinct Earth and Elysium settings, the film shoot itself, and the sets and locations; and Enhancing Elysium, which focuses on the post-production work on the editing, effects, score and sound design.
The extras are both substantial and of substance.
In Support of Story: The Visual Effects of Elysium is a welcome 10-minute companion-piece dedicated to the effects, focussing on the vehicles, the robot police and the VFX used to rebuild flesh; The Technology of 2154 is a further 10 minutes looking at the future technology of the piece – the exoskeletons, robots and advanced weaponry; Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium spends a quarter-of-an-hour looking at the casting of the lead characters, with input and interview snippets from the same; and Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky spends 12 minutes detailing Syd Mead’s visionary contribution towards the design of the Elysium world. Anyone interested in finding out more about Syd Mead can read Steve Withers interview with with him here. There’s also a single Extended Scene (the same scene with the VFX focus, where a face is rebuilt) and the disc is rounded off with Preview Trailers.
Verdict: Must-HaveBlomkamp skilfully balances visionary future-scale with topical social commentary, matching impressive visuals with gritty texture and bloody impact, and adding welcome weight to the dark and stylish piece, whilst grounding it in a series of strong core performances. It’s also tense and relentlessly dark in its oppressive and oftentimes innovative action setpieces. Far from flawless, it is nevertheless one of the year’s must-see movies.
In terms of this Region Free UK release, it’s a near-perfect package, which promotes perfect video and audio – both unequivocally reference material – and a hefty selection of extra features, leaving this one of the best Blu-ray packages of the year. This baby comes highly recommended: make it your first post-Christmas purchase.
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