Neill Blomkamp blows away Comic-Con with 1st-ever Elysium footage

District 9 director Neill Blomkamp returned to Comic-Con yesterday, three years after making a huge splash with his debut film, to show off his new movie, Elysium. And all we can say is ... WOW.

Blomkamp took the world by surprise in 2009 with his fresh, often brilliant tale of alien apartheid in South Africa, and ever since then his new project has been shrouded in secrecy. Well, the veil was lifted yesterday as the filmmaker debuted a six-minute "sizzle reel" that laid out much of the plot and the look of his new epic, which stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and returning District 9 star Sharlto Copley.

Set in 2154, Elysium (due out in March 2013) takes place on an Earth devastated by pollution, overpopulation and poverty. But the very wealthiest folks live in space on Elysium, a beautiful, pristine place where there is no disease, no crime and no want for anything (and apparently designed by an architect who may have read Larry Niven's Ringworld). When Damon's character, Max, a manual laborer with a criminal past, is exposed to a deadly dose of radiation on the job and given five days to live, he must revert back to crime and concoct a desperate plan to get to the one place where he might be cured—Elysium, where no one from the surface is allowed to go.

From the bleak, decaying cities of Earth to the space-based wonderland of Elysium, the footage—which Blomkamp warns us includes some unfinished effects—has that kind of epic sweep and impact that made District 9 such a hit even if it was made for $30 million. Blomkamp has a lot more money to work with this time, and it shows. But there's also a real emotional weight to the footage as Damon's character is put through extreme physical and mental trials to achieve his goal (he's also physically welded to some armor that gives him increased strength and endurance for his mission). And it wouldn't be a Blomkamp story without an underlying sociopolitical theme, with the gap between the haves and the have-nots in this film literally wider than ever.

Damon—who, like Foster, made his Comic-Con debut today—reckons that Blomkamp will soon be up there with the great directors of all time, and says that the director's name alone is what attracted him to do the movie. And if anyone thinks the actor isn't dedicated to his craft, he recalls shooting a scene with Copley in a gigantic garbage dump in Mexico City: "This helicopter flew over us and kicked up all this dust, so Sharlto and I were black when it was done. And we looked at each other and went, 'This is fecal matter.'"

Copley plays the complete opposite of his sad sack Wikus from District 9; here he's an assassin called Kruger who looks like a nomad but wields a deadly sword and is clearly a dangerous psychopath. Foster plays the head of the government authority that tends to Elysium while making sure that everyone else stays underfoot, underfed, overworked and destitute.

Blomkamp and Copley were effusive in their thanks to the Comic-Con audience, saying that this is where it all began for them three years ago when a secret screening of District 9 started the buzz for that movie. Judging from the wildly enthusiastic response to what we saw today (perhaps the loudest yet this weekend), we'd say that the buzz for Elysium has started right now.

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