x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Elysium continues the theme that bad things happen to humans in space

The new sci-fi film Elysium ranks alongside previous cinematic imaginings of how human non-Earth habitats would look.

A scene from Queen of Outer Space. Courtesy Warner Home Video
A scene from Queen of Outer Space. Courtesy Warner Home Video

The South African director Neill Blomkamp made a huge splash with his mesmerising 2009 debut District 9. His highly anticipated follow-up, Elysium, sees Matt Damon and Jodie Foster share billing with the District 9 star Sharlto Copley in another outlandish tale of social inequality masquerading as a sci-fi blockbuster. 

Elysium was first mentioned in Greek mythology, as being the idyllic fields where those related to the gods would spend eternity. Well, in Los Angeles in 2154 it’s not blood but dollars that give you entry rights. Elysium is a giant space station where an artificial environment allows for the growing of perfect green lawns, the houses look to be designed for MTV’s Cribs and there is no disease.

Blomkamp has created a world that ranks alongside previous cinematic imaginings of how human non-Earth habitats would look.

The most famous depiction of future human life on Earth came from the mind of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990). In contrast to Elysium, it is Earth that’s apparently the idyll and Mars the place of infighting. The planet looks half-built with pod-like buildings spurting from the ground; like something from the mind of Salvador Dali. Something drastic must have happened to the red planet because it did not feature in 2012’s Total Recall reboot starring Colin Farrell.

It seems that clichés also operate in space, so if you’re a female of the species, you head to Venus. In Queen of Outer Space (1958), a US rocket squadron lands and discovers an all-female civilisation. The women live in a palace that looks like a cheap set from Star Trek. Zsa Zsa Gabor plays a woman determined to reintroduce men into society.

One thing to remember is that if you ever find human life on the Moon – run for your life. In Missile to the Moon (1958), an expedition discovers a sinister matriarch presiding over Earth’s women. Implausibly the Moon has desert vegetation, wood and a sunny cloud-filled sky. The other problem is that you might just run into Nazis.

From the time of the 1947 novel Rocket Ship Galileo, there have been rumours that Adolf Hitler faked his own death and went to live out his days on the surface of the Moon. A number of B-movies have revelled in this pretext, most notably the 2012 crowd-sourcing phenomenon Iron Sky.

Bad things happening to humans in space is a theme that shows no sign of ending, even if we never get to find out what happens on ­Prometheus.

artslife@thenational.ae