ELYSIUM review

Elysium posterHey, want to watch an action flick? I can give you a quick, step-by-step plan to get the ELYSIUM experience without actually leaving your place.

  1. Load a classic action flick, like THEY LIVE, THE BOURNE IDENTITY or most any action movie made in the 80s, into a laptop or tablet.
  2. Pound down a gallon of coffee.
  3. Hit “play.”
  4. When the first well-chorographed fight scene appears, shake the laptop or tablet as hard as you can, in all directions, while simultaneously thrashing your head all about, and also sprinting at top speed over uneven ground.
  5. Enjoy!

You won’t have any idea of what’s hapening in that fight scene. If you’re a fan of action movies, I just saved you $12 on a movie ticket for ELYSIUM, because it’s exactly the same thing.

I try to avoid any kind of negative reviews on this blog, but after the dissappointment of SHAKY-CAM THE WOLVERINE, I have to vent about SHAKY-CAM ELYSIUM. It wasn’t long ago that I watched SHAKY-CAM HUNGER GAMES and thought, “oh, well, that’s a flick aimed at a younger demographic and was directed by someone who has never done an action flick, so of course when it comes to hand-to-hand battles, they get lazy, cop out and make the fight scenes some scrambly bullshit to convey the ‘crazy confusion’ the characters face in a fight.”

Little did I know that HUNGER GAMES was just part of an overall trend.

A few days ago, I saw SHAKY-CAM THE WOLVERINE. Not knowing it was directed by Mr. Shakey-Cam, I expected great fight scenes because it was a big-budget comic-book flick. You know, superheroes and stuff? The first fight scene in that movie might as well have been left on the cutting room floor. If the point is to show that Wolverine is a total bad-ass, then the point is missed, because you have no idea what’s going on. It was a shame, becuase I thought the first 15-20 minutes of that flick were awesome. I enjoyed the character establishment, the setting, the plot construction, all good. When the fights started, however, they were so bad it took me out of the movie.

Wait, maybe the fights were good, but I wouldn’t know: everything shook so damn bad. Nice directrial decision there, guy.

But then comes SHAKY CAM ELYSIUM. I’m a big fan of DISTRICT 9 and couldn’t wait to see director Neil Blomkamp’s next flick. Little did I know he was fired in mid-shoot, and replaced by Mr. Shakey-Cam. Are the Matt Damon fight scenes any good? I couldn’t tell you, because the DP and cameraman were both so strung-out on meth DTs that they’d make a gyroscope tilt and shake and jitter.

Honestly, it’s to the point where I want the Motion Picture Association to give a new kind of rating. In addition to “R” and “PG-13,” I want “SC” for “shakey-cam.” If it’s got that rating, I don’t want to see the movie. I don’t want to pay good money for lazy filmmaking, or for a directorial decision where he/she wants the viewer to “know what it feels like” to be in a fight. Know what? I’m in a cushy theater seat, not in an alley in the bad part of town getting the crap kicked out of me. I don’t need to “feel the frentic energy” of a fight. I need to be able to see what’s going on. I need to experience what used to be the grand art form of fight choreography, of watching the big screen and saying “ohhh, snap! Did you see that?”

I mean these fight scenes? Unwatchable. I should have closed my eyes and taken a nap, not stared and waited to get my money’s worth.

Oh, you want the overall review of ELYSIUM? I’ll break it down the overly simplistic, heavy-handed political message for you this way.

    • All rich people are heartless monsters.
    • The future sucks donkey balls.
    • If we have tech so common it is an appliance in every household, tech that can heal any disease in five seconds, but we’ll only let the 1% have it and everyone else can just get sick and die (refer to the first point, above).
    • Jodie Foster was in a hurry for her sound-dubbing, and isn’t good at lip-synching.
Elysium isn’t all bad, there’s plenty to enjoy.

    • The FX (that are not part of fight scenes) really kick ass.
    • The ship design is great, and the big, titular space station Elysium looks fantastic.
    • The robots are done so well sometimes it’s impossible to tell if its a guy in a suit or full-on CGI.

So, if you like big-picture eye candy, go and enjoy. If you like heavy-handed political messaging in your scifi, a-la AVATAR, put on your Che Guevera beret and dig in. If you like looking at a bulked up, tatted-out Matt Damon, expect your tingly bits to tingle overtime. I thought the art-design was top-notch, but after the second fight scene I really didn’t care anymore.

Here’s my final bitch — if you’re going to make an action movie and rely on fight scenes to pack the seats and move the story forward, then make a damn fight scene. Dear Hollywood: stop being so frigging lazy. No one likes Shaky-Cam. Yes, your movie makes money, because there don’t seem to be any options out there. Honestly, fight scenes in THE WOLVERINE that are confusing and unwatchable? How does that even happen?

Hopefully, DISTRICT 10 will see Blomkamp get back to the great action we saw in DISTRICT 9. But, I’ll wait to see the tweets, because I certainly won’t be there opening night to find out for myself. From now on, my $12 and I are staying home.


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  1. Dom

    Totally agree about the new classification of SC. I am in my mid 40s and it affects me real bad. the nausea is overwhelming. Like strobe lighting in children which is always mentioned before a film or a TV programme there should be a campaign about shakycam classification. Oh by the way a new kid on the absolutely horrendous and over the top shakycam film on permanent zoom is Captain Phillips of the Greengrass fame. Avoid Avoid Avoid

    1. scottsigler

      I think BLAIR WITCH was brilliant in the concept. They didn’t have enough money to make a real film, so instead of shooting something that looked shitty, they found a way to bake their lack of equipment into the film’s milieu. The movie looks like it’s shot on a crappy handheld? Well, that’s because it is, and they show you that is is all the way through. BLAIR WITCH truly is one of those “holy shit” moments in art, where someone finds a simple concept that no one else has properly implemented.

      Since then, it’s not so good. CLOVERFIELD was fun but ridiculous in execution: a 40-foot monster that you can never get a clear shot of? The conceit collapsed in on itself. They really had to work hard to find ways to keep the film going on handheld, and it showed.

      I think it’s still an okay technique for filmmaking, but it’s old and tired and contrived now. Instead of enjoying the film, I think we find ourselves saying things like “he’s going to hand that girl the camera now, so we can see what he looks like, then the other guy will hold it and probably go in the basement,” etc. We watch the form instead of the movie itself.

      The exception to all of this is TROLL HUNTER. Fucking awesome flick. If you haven’t seen it, rent it right now. It out-does BLAIR WITCH in execution, and for my money is the best found-footage film ever.

  2. Gillsing

    A while ago I read that Kickass 2 had shaky cam action scenes. That quickly made up my mind whether I was going to see that movie or Red 2. I think the SC rating is a great idea, and someone should make a website that lists all the movies with shaky cam action scenes. Until then we’ll just have to research each movie as it is released. Caveat emptor. (It never occurred to me to check for shaky cam before I went to see Elysium though. I don’t see a lot of movies, so maybe I missed most of the trend?)

  3. Steve Mazer

    I strongly agree with Scott about movies done by Mr. Skakey-Cam — he can take a movie that you are enjoying, and just piss all over the whole experience. I was going to bring up the whole Bourne Identity (loved it) Bourne Supremacy thing (hated the shakey cam in the second), but romanda beat me to it.

    What I can’t understand is why shakey-cam is in so many movies with action scenes (fights, car-chases). The only thing I can think is that even though I don’t like the technique, I must be in the minority.

  4. macmkaz

    Don’t hold back, Scott, tell us exactly how you feel.

    I never noticed that about shaky cam, but I’ll keep an eye out for it…

  5. Sardonic

    I was just having a similar conversation with my brother-in-law.  He is a good representation of large portion of the population.  He isn’t too bright and easy to impress.  Give him a movie where he has to do some thinking to follow along and he’s lost.  But an action movie he will love it even if he can’t see whats going on.  If the images move faster and faster and keep changing then it maxes out his visual cortex and it’s the best thing around.


    As far as the political meaning and innuendos, that is all over his head.  Avitar was just about Blue people protecting their tree.  And even if you explain it to him he still won’t get it.  He is strictly visual very little thinking.  And unfortunately there is a large number of people out there that are like that and it’s growing with younger kids inability to focus for more than a few seconds.  So these types of movies may be around for a long time.


    One of the things I like about Sigler’s books as an engineer I like how he goes into the scientific process oh how the things are actually happening and why.  If my brother-in-law actually had the attention spend to read or listen to a book those parts would turn him off because it would make his head hurt.  


    Like it or not we are stuck with people like that and movies are going to be tailored towards them.  Which is unfortunate because there are a lot of break books and stories  that won’t get made or get butchered to target that audience.

  6. BigJohn

    Scott and Romanda, I could just give you guys big kisses. I’ve been bitching rather quietly and privately about this very same thing for a while now, to the point where I even quipped that the inventor of Steadicam must be rolling over in his grave – which would actually be a smooth, easy-to-view roll – at how much his work and effort has been thrown out the window.

    I am so sick of Shaky-Cam. How does an editor even get “good” at editing shaky-cam footage? I don’t even think it’s possible. I can only imagine them getting 10 reels of fight footage and saying …”ok, here’s the beginning, here’s the end and…how long do you need this scene to be? We can pretty much just keep adding new cuts and shakes until your time limit is filled.”

    Fuck Shaky-Cam. Long live Steadicam.

  7. Octopon

    When I saw the trailer I knew this movie was going to be a big political statement. I can’t stand movies like this that aren’t documentaries, and Damon really gets on my nerves these days. He isn’t a good actor. And yes, the Shaky-Cam thing makes me stabby, almost as much as accessive lens flares. 

  8. romanda

    I Loved The Bourne Identity, then I went to see The Bourne Supremacy and i thought i was going to puke.  Bing “in the middle of a fight” is a place I have been before, but its not the place i want to SEE the fight.   If you cant tell who’s arm is punching whom, then whats the point?  Then lets take a cameraman and stick him in a car and have him try and hold on, focus, and not die all at the same time.  Oh yea, he should TRY and get some kind of fottage we might be able to use in the film.. WRONG.

    Then there is all these “hand held” movies that may have been ok, but whne i spend half the movie looking away because i dont want to puke, what am i actually seeing?

    As a photographer (or working on it) if i posted all blurry, out of focus shots where the main subject may or may not be even in the frame, everyone would think i was a drunk, or worse.   

    This trend in using shaky-cam is a bad one.  We used to have this junk ages ago, then someone figured out that the people sitting looking up at a huge screen do not want to see it shaking all over the place, and invented STEADY-CAM!  Why are we going backwards?  How does this add to the enjoyment of the movie?  To me it takes me out of the movie, and im like “really, please, stop moving the damn camera!”.  

    The big question is, how do we convinve the powers that be, to stop this trend?  Is there a Facebook group called “hold_the_damn_camera_steady”?  maybe we should start one. 

    Thanks for saving me not just $12, but 3x that (wife/son/me) $30 in popcorn/drinks, and a MASSIVE headache.  

    Keep up the awesome work!