In case you didn’t know it, Neill Blomkamp has a movie coming out this weekend. It’s called CHAPPIE, a Blomkamp original idea of a robot policeman who becomes sentient. Just before the movie was released (a movie which I will be seeing this weekend) Blomkamp revealed he was doing his long dreamed ALIEN project. That’s when things went pear shaped in the eyes of science-fiction movie fans. One of the surely sacred franchises, ALIEN has it staunch defenders and Blomkamp’s personal obsession becoming professional was greeted with glee by me, but reservations from many online columnists and commentators. Suddenly this out-of-left-field science fiction director went from promised child to reviled botch up. At the speed of light it seemed Blomkamp became arm-chair aficionados favorite speed bag.
This assail of Blomkamp comes as his CHAPPIE, which has barely hit the theaters, is already being torn asunder by cinemaphiles. Part of a larger issue (which I will be addressing in a post next week) is this almost maliciously ebullient attack on creators of original science fiction films.
Blomkamp stormed onto the science fiction film scene with 2009’s DISTRICT 9. A tale of alien life arriving in South Africa set in a modern alien Apartheid state, this blend of action with credible, moral storytelling caught people’s eye. Yet, just as quickly the throngs enamored with the South African director became his harshest and sustained critics when he released ELYSIUM. A bigger movie, cemented by the casting of Matt Damon, ELYSIUM was far from a ‘blockbuster” and criticized by professional and armchair pundits alike. Even Blomkamp, in recent days, has admitted short comings with ELYSIUM and to that I say…admit your mistakes- it is the only way we get better as storytellers- but never back down! To many online critics and raptors, Blomkamp’s admission of mistakes in ELYSIUM give them a foot in the door to kick the director hence forth. (And the article headline is about as agenda setting as a headline can get.)
I am happy to hear Blomkamp admit there were flaws in ELYSIUM. Perhaps the film should have taken a more satirical tact? Agreed. Maybe his desire for a raw sci-fi actioner belonged in a different project? Perhaps his yearning for an action film replete with fantastic conceptual design percolated in his multi-disciplined mind and flowed into the core of have/have nots that was ELYSIUM. Maybe exoskeletons, hyper-velocity weapons and amazing production design belong in his desired ALIEN? All that being said, ELYSIUM was original, fast paced, and more thoughtful than a majority of tent-poles in cinemas today.
Neill Blomkamp is the prime example of modern filmmaker shaped by global entertainment. These variety of influences, from films to comic-books, show an adept and bright minded approach to crafting fantastic visual stories. In the below clip, we hear from Blomkamp his list of influences.
The breadth of movies and artists shows his acute and honest survey of his skill-sets. Blomkamp knows his strength lay in visuals, design and story concepts. Blomkamp’s pluses outweigh his minuses, in my opinion. I think that his effort to do original science fiction, stories that are odd, compelling or simply intelligent action, are worthy of praise.
Watch that interview and hear what an honest, yet creative filmmaker sees in the world around him. Below I’ve attached the series of short-films Blomkamp has done. The DNA is obvious- Masamune Shirow, James Cameron, Katsuhiro Otomo, Geof Darrow and Ridley Scott, to name a few. With Manga and Anime blended with the brightest of late 1970s-through-early 1990s science fiction films, Blomkamp remains a talent worthy of defense. His short films act as “sea trial” for ideas, where Blomkamp kept the core concept clean, while allowing him to explore the world within limits. These short films, from TETRA VAAL to ALIVE IN JOBURG, serve as the artist’s “thumbnail sketch” giving him the layouts and show the potential.
Today, IGN UK Podcast with Blomkamp gives us a different view of the director’s creativity. I draw your attention to the 3 minute mark of the interview where he talks about modern “design” in film being done by talented artists, yet don’t have a practical real-world relationship with “tool and die” or tangible model making. Blomkamp’s idea of digital kitbashing keys on an important film making point in the digital age- the further you are disconnected from reality and the basic physics of sight/sound/movement- the further we are removed reality of the most fantastic film. That directorial revelation alone is a refreshing change in a film world where directors routinely parade two plus hour films, loaded with tens of thousands of CGI shots, most with dubious physics, across out cineplex screens.
His choice in design, aesthetics, shot composition and characters make Blomkamp an unusual modern creator.
I’ll take any Neill Blomkamp film- any day- over a bloated, self congratulatory sci-fi superhero project.
ALIVE IN JOBURG