In 2009, producer Peter Jackson and studio Tri-Star Pictures took a chance on an up-and-coming new talent who, despite having never directed a full-length feature before, had exhibited a visionary filmmaker's eye with his short film, "Alive in Joburg." Given the opportunity to make whatever he wanted with a budget of $30-million, Neil Blomkamp came up with "District 9," a wholly original pseudo-documentary about an extraterrestrial visitation in the slums of Johannesburg, South Africa. With seamless visual effects and a scope both staggering and intimate, the picture looked every bit as costly as any number of $100-million-plus summer tentpoles; the difference was that the movie in question was not only a creative idea tackled from a fresh perspective, but it also had more on its mind than explosions and eye-candy. For Blomkamp's eagerly awaited sophomore effort, he has been handed the kind of budget he's never had before—an estimated $120-million, give or take—and a blessed R rating that is in keeping with the director's uncompromising sensibilities. Yet another science-fiction tale bred not from pre-existing material, but out of Blomkamp's and co-writer Terri Tatchell's imaginations, "Elysium" is gorgeous, sturdily paced, and involving. Like "District 9," there is a social message beneath the entertainment value. Unlike "District 9," the story and its mesmerizing settings are underexplored and its themes start to get lost as action fireworks take over in the second half.
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