Monday, March 03, 2014

Movies of 2013 - Elysium

We were blessed with quite a few decent movies in 2013. I'm watching one of them at the moment - Elysium.

What is it ? It's a scifi spectacular based in the year 2154. Human society has been split in two, the majority live on Earth. An apparently post apocalyptic Earth with Los Angeles in ruins. The minority live in an orbiting space habitat called Elysium where they enjoy the benefits of hyper advanced technology. Things like being able to cure Leukaemia in minutes by effectively taking the body apart and putting it back together again the right way.

I'll try and avoid too many spoilers but here's the major characters :

Lead protagonist - Max. Who lives on Earth but dreams of reaching Elysium. He experiences a factory accident which irradiates him with a dose that will be lethal in 5 days. Desperate times indeed ... The desperate measure is an exo suit that gives him super strength to counteract the radiation sickness.

With Max is Frey, who gives Max another very good reason for wanting to get up to Elysium.

Jodie Foster plays a megalomaniac defense secretary who is prepared to do anything necessary to protect Elysium.

Sharlto Copley (the breakthrough star of District 9) plays a wonderfully psychotic mercenary for hire who is Jodie Foster's muscle. And by wonderfully psychotic, that's definitely an understatement.

You have other characters in there as well but they take a second place to the leads and the technology the writers get to play with.

It starts with the space station - Elysium. There's a lot done right here. If you've read the Ringworld books, that series has a massive ring in space orbiting a sun. It gradually spins, which keeps the air in. This time, it's a much smaller station that is about 19 minutes travel time from Earth.

Aside - it's not "centrifugal" force. That's a fallacy invented to explain something without any true understanding of what's going on. The BBC commentators in the Winter Olympics used it a lot in the bobsleigh coverage. The ball being spun on the rope doesn't fly away due to mythical centrifugal force, it goes round in a circle due to centripetal force exerted by the rope. It's similar with the air in a ringworld. The atmosphere wants to carry straight on outwards but is kept inside by the surface and high walls.

The average movie viewer doesn't care about that though - it's the visuals that count and they're top notch.

Aside 2 - although they don't mention it in the movie, there's a series of Lagrange points up in space. They're the places where things stay where they're put. I'm assuming the Elysium habitat is at one of the L4 or L5 (between Earth and Moon - see link for more) points. Reason ? It's in the same place in the sky. This is another sign of how they were clever, it's presenting something complex in a simple way. People who know the orbital mechanics thing recognise it but ... the average movie viewer isn't interested.

Exo suits - these are coming. Perhaps not as gruesomely as in the movie (think chop shop but with a human having things screwed into him) but they're on their way. Hopefully soon too because an exo suit, full or partial, will be an amazing way of getting our amputees their mobility back. The trick is to make the movement natural and precise and it's that precision which will be the tough part of the pie. We'll need to precision that lets us close fingers on an egg, without breaking the shell.

The progression from that is AI controlled droids - these guys are Nasty.

Using the brain as a memory store. I dunno the stats on this but we don't use much of the space in our brains. Elysium sees data being stored in our heads. I think this is coming too, although the interface will need work. Nasty copy protection here ;-).

The medical tech - this is the true miracle. Will it be possible in 140 years ? I hope so.

Should you watch Elysium ? Hell yeah. It's a great movie. There's enough action and explosions in there to keep most movie watchers happy. And the science in there keeps the scifi geekster happy too. Although there are bad points that we won't mention too much :

The engines on the spaceships. Ok, it is 140 years in the future ? Plausible ? Maybe.
Shooting down shuttles in a manner that will pepper the habitat with debris - ouch.
Having a handheld launcher capable of shooting down shuttles in orbit - want one.
Using computer speak from now (assembler language and BIOS screens) - make something else up !

Apart from that, it has pretty much everything : Great story, amazing visuals, science fiction that makes a lot of sense, excellent characters.

Well worth catching. I think I wrote about it around August when it was in cinemas, I just finished watching on Bluray and it still holds up. It's not the best movie of last year, Gravity was better. Need to buy that.


  1. Often pretty to look at but I thought it had far too many problems and tried far to hard to even make my Bronze list I'm afraid.

  2. Have you watched Gravity yet ? Think you'd enjoy that one. Although it does have the "Oh hell the critics liked it" stamp of doom from the Oscars.


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