Monday, September 2, 2013

Elysium: It's No Oblivion

Spoiler Alert! If you don't want to know the nitty gritty details of the recently released SF film Elysium, stop reading now.

My DH and I hit the matinee one Saturday afternoon to catch this brand new SF(R?) flick that looked slick, adventurous, suspenseful and gritty.

Upon leaving the theatre, he asked, "What did you think?"

I answered, "Now you know the difference between Science Fiction Romance and straight Sci-Fi."

"So a Science Fiction Romance is like...?"


He paused for a minute. "How was Oblivion different from this film?"

That took a bit of thought. At first I was going to say "the hero doesn't die at the end," but then I realized that the hero does die. But in Oblivion, there's a wicked twist that makes it SFR. Something I didn't see coming, which made it all the more fun for the unpredictable HEA.

Oblivion was my example because it was fresh in my mind (as opposed to Avatar or Star Wars) because I had the opportunity to re-watch the movie as it broke on pay per view. Viewing it the second and third time around was a treat because I picked up on details I missed in the theatre. Oblivion was worth watching again and again just to see all the elements fall into place leading up to the surprise ending.

Elysium, I probably won't watch again. Once was enough. Why?

Depressing Dystopia is not Inspiring

Elysium had some cool tech, including an "open air" space station with luxurious estates and grounds. Everything on the station is lush, pristine and polished. I'm still not sure how future science would pull off the "open air" (or "open space") part, where shuttles didn't even need to bother with docking bays, they just flew straight in for a landing on the inside of Elysium's gargantuan circular structure. Plasma barriers might accomplish that, but then the shuttles would have to have some way of penetrating the barrier, so it didn't appear plasma was the magic, invisible atmosphere envelope. If there was some reference to the science that supposedly allowed this, I missed it.

Earth below is the antithesis of Elysium. Its widespread poverty, ramshackle ruins and vastly inferior and unsafe work place conditions (OSHA is apparently long extinct) are depressing and, at times, stomach-turning. Healthcare is overcrowded and under staffed, with long lines of the ill taking a number in hopes of being seen and getting treatment. Fresh food and water are scarce to non-existant. And the struggling masses can always look overhead to the constant, shining temptation of Elysium and her super rich inhabitants--as elusive as a mirage for the average earthbound slob.

Oblivion's main characters lived in a sleek, high-tech home in the sky, but for all it's shine and coolness,  it was the Earth itself that was most inspiring. The empty wasteland of destroyed monuments and buried architecture gave a sense of lost history via devastating holocaust, rather than a slow decline into grimy ruin of Elysium's world.

Predictability vs. Plot Twist

Elysium was predictable in that somebody would hatch a plot to reach the station, and that our poor down-and-out and recently radiation-poisoned hero (result of a brutal workplace accident) would be the vehicle that gives them the shot.

In order to make it possible, he's turned into a tech-enhanced superhuman, in a scene that made me--and the rest of the audience--cringe and cover their eyes.

The balance of the movie is about the struggle to hijack the data to make the assault on Elysium possible--brutal firefights, explosions, destruction, suicidal villains, heinous wounds and death. There was a tiny hint of romance in the whole scenario that was swallowed up in the relentless cruelty and inhumanity.

Oblivion offered a very different scenario where hero and his sleek technology faced down threats from alien interlopers who skulked in the ruins, had brought on cataclysm by destroying the Moon, and now attempted to tear down what was left of human civilization. Or so it seemed...

Finishing up the final days of his and his female partner's "tour" to service the drones that protect the airborne water processors needed to support the Tet space station orbiting Earth, and a distant colony on the Saturn moon Titan, his duty sometimes brings him into contact with the diabolical alien Scavs. When he's captured by the enemy, everything he's ever believed about the Scavs is challenged.

Theme of Hope vs. Hopelessness

Though Oblivion and Elysium shared the "Sky Above-Good: Earth Below-Bad" themes, Oblivion's ruined Earth and scary-good violence inspired more a sense of wonder than the over-the-top blood, twisted limbs and metal wreckage scenes of Elysium.

As far as plot, Elysium was straightforward and in-your-face with political statements and rise-of-the-classes conflict. There were no big surprises or mistruths. The action reached monotony in an endless car-crash kind of way. The villain was darkly evil without any real sense of what drove him to his borderline insanity. He was evil just for the sake of evil.

In contrast, I felt Oblivion offered a great bit of mystery and suspense. Despite the hero's super-lux, high-tech habitat, he was fascinated with the ruin of the Earth, the tug of memories just beyond his reach and past events just beyond his understanding. The villains in Oblivion were also dark and violent, until you learned their true nature and that their struggle for survival was more of a noble last stand. The hero's emotional journey was complex and eye-opening as he began to uncover the real truth and that his training and beliefs were all based on falsehoods and propaganda. His changing loyalties were believable and well drawn as he learned the good guys were really soulless bad guys, and the bad guys represented humanity's last hope.

The Wrap

Ultimately, the ending of Elysium left me disappointed and unsettled. After all the bitter struggle, self-sacrifice and the main character's connection to a potential love interest, there was no reward except perhaps that he died a hero. No HEA here. That he "saved" humanity by his actions felt a bit hollow and uninspired.

Oblivion ended with a twist that, although it didn't bring the hero back from the the same time it did. In a clever and calculated way that left a lot of room for hope. The aha! moments were enlightening and imaginative. Though the plot left a few loose threads, it answered enough questions and solved the big mystery in a way that left me feeling uplifted, not deeply depressed.

For pure, thought-provoking, SF/R entertainment, Oblivion has my vote, hand's down.

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