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SYFY WIRE Matt Damon

The "Very Different," Low-Budget Origin of Neill Blomkamp's Elysium

Neill Blomkamp's second film almost looked and felt very different.

By Matthew Jackson
Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) stands in a tuck bed and looks at a decapitated robot in Elysium (2013).

After the massive success of his debut feature, 2009's District 9, writer/director Neill Blomkamp set out to make another ambitious sci-fi film rich in social commentary and big ideas. The result was Elysium (now available on SYFY), a sci-fi action film starring Matt Damon as an ex-con racing against time to get aboard a massive space station for the elite and wealthy of humanity. It's got everything you'd expect from a high-concept sci-fi blockbuster, but did you know that Elysium was originally a far different film?

After District 9, which was made on a relatively low budget without major Hollywood stars in Blomkamp's native South Africa, the writer/director envisioned his next film as much the same thing. Speaking to the Associated Press, he admitted that his original vision for the film was "low-budget" and "very different" from what we eventually saw onscreen. So, what changed?

For More on Neill Blomkamp:
Neill Blomkamp's looks back on 'Elysium' 10 years later
Gran Turismo puts pedal to the metal in first look at Neill Blomkamp's video game adaptation
Neill Blomkamp just dropped a short prequel film to BioWare's Anthem video game

How Neill Blomkamp's Elysium Could Have Been Much Different

Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley) holds a sword in Elysium (2013).

While he didn't go into too much detail about plot and worldbuilding for his lower-budget version, Blomkamp did tell Wired that he'd originally been interested in casting South African rapper Ninja in the lead role of Max De Costa. Ninja, who loved District 9 so much that he has one of the film's logos tattooed on the inside of his lip, turned Blomkamp down because he didn't want to play a character that would require him to transform so completely, including adding an American accent, for what would be his first feature film. Ninja and his Die Antwoord partner, Yolandi Visser, went on to work with Blomkamp on his follow-up to Elysium, 2015's Chappie

Still hoping to keep the budget modest, Blomkamp went looking for a bigger rap star to lead the film, and approached American hip hop icon Eminem to play Max. He was interested, but on one condition: The film had to be shot in and around his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. Blomkamp, who had a very clear idea of how the film should look, turned Eminem down. With his more unorthodox choices both out of the running, Blomkamp reconsidered the scope of the film, and went back to the scripting phase to expand Elysium's scale. 

"Then I wrote it more expensive, and bigger, and I was like, 'It's a different film now, I want to find a big actor,'" Blomkamp said. "And then I went through the list, and Matt was my favorite on the list."

Fortunately for Blomkamp, Damon said yes, and Elysium grew into the sci-fi action blockbuster with loads of social commentary that we know and love today. 

Elysium is now streaming on the SYFY app and the SYFY Movies hub.