"Elysium: The Art of the Film" Book Review
Written by Mark Salisbury
2013, 176 pages, Reference
Book released on August 6th, 2013
At first glance, Elysium: The Art of the Film is just a nice-looking coffee table book, but the contents inside reveal an unbelievably dense collection of concept art, production stills and storyboards that demands closer inspection. Kicking things off is a nice foreword by writer-director Neill Blomkamp (District 9), in which he expresses his enthusiasm for the opportunity to present a look at the intricate design work that went into the making of the film. He explains that his process as an artist is very visually driven and the images in his mind determine the direction the finished script will take. Elysium took several years and underwent countless variations of artwork to get the correct style. This book reproduces many of these graphics in a sleek, highly organized layout that will surely impress both graphic artists and cinephiles alike.
There is a brief introduction that provides an overview of the basic plot of the film. Elysium is set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, where the socioeconomic classes have separated to a point where Earth is a decayed wasteland filled with slums and poverty and the wealthy live in comfort on a floating paradise in space. The general details are fleshed out a bit, but the majority of this section focuses on how the story came about and what steps went into the early concept drawings. Blomkamp offers a look behind the curtain of how the basic elements of the story came together and extends the conversation to various members of the cast and crew to share their insights. A particular highlight includes the reflections of legendary artist Syd Mead (Aliens, Blade Runner, Tron), whose contributions to the film are inarguably stunning.
Just as the Haves and Have Nots are physically separated in the film, the chapters covering each society are also relegated to two sections of the book. There is a focus on the poverty-stricken citizens of Earth and their working environment as well as the wealthy class living on the space station. The look of the landscape, the design of their homes, vehicles, weaponry, workspaces and the various robots they come in contact with are all given individual chapters. Each element receives a concise paragraph of detailed information (with additional text joining some production stills) to explain exactly how the pieces fit in the larger puzzle. There are also sections devoted to artwork within the film, including corporate logos, graffiti and tattoos.
The contents are thoughtfully laid out across the wide glossy pages, some as trifolds that reproduce the images in a clean and colorful manner. The text blocks are unobtrusive in their placement, ensuring that the artwork remains front and center throughout. It is nice to see the countless variations many of these elements went through, and Blomkamp admits to tinkering with some designs well into post-production. There is also a glimpse at some material removed from the finished film, including the graphic “ghetto surgery” sequence. Perhaps some of this content will turn up as a supplement on the Blu-ray release, but it is nice to have the material included here just in case.
This book is everything I wanted it to be and more. The care that went into making this as comprehensive a record of the production as possible is inspired and greatly appreciated. Knowing now that such collections are possible, I wish I could revisit my review for World War Z: The Art of the Film and take away a star for the fumble it now clearly is. Take my advice and pick this book up immediately, whether you're a fan of graphic design or simply like Matt Damon movies, it is highly unlikely that you will be disappointed.