A couple of weeks ago, we reported that Neill Blomkamp — who is currently promoting Chappie (we’ll have more from Blomkamp next week on Chappie) — was very close to directing an Alien sequel, and Fox was just waiting on Blomkamp to make that decision. Since then, Blomkamp has made that decision, stating that his new Alien movie will be a direct sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens, disregarding the third and fourth films in the franchise.
After we discussed his new Alien film, the subject drifted towards Blomkamp’s last film, 2013’s Elysium, starring Matt Damon. Technically, Elysium grossed more money than Blomkamp’s first film, District 9 (though, on a higher budget), and still sports a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but, perception-wise, it’s considered a misfire. And Blomkamp agrees, going as far to say that the script wasn’t there and admitting that, “I just didn’t make a good enough film.”
It’s fascinating to listen to a director talk honestly about their past work, especially when that past work is flawed. Ahead, Blomkamp looks back on Elysium and admits that he wishes he could go back and remake it the right way.
You mentioned your frustration with negotiating Hollywood. Does it become more difficult when your first movie is as successful as District 9, then Elysium underperforms?
No, any frustration I feel with Elysium is with myself. I think I’m lucky, at least for this phase of my career, I’m lucky in the sense that I don’t feel a lot of pressures I think other directors feel. I don’t have District 9 be successful and then have Elysium be not successful and then beat myself up over it because of how the audience perceives them. Do you know what I mean?
So, let’s say you make District 9 and it does well. So, now, a normal director is like, “Sh*t, I’ve got this pressure because this last film did well and I hope this one lives up to it.” I don’t have that. It definitely doesn’t bother me. The thing that bothers me is if I feel like I f*cked it up.
Do you feel you f*cked up Elysium?
A little bit.
What would you have done differently?
I feel like, ultimately, the story is not the right story. I still think the satirical idea of a ring, filled with rich people, hovering above the impoverished Earth, is an awesome idea. I love it so much, I almost want to go back and do it correctly. But I just think the script wasn’t… I just didn’t make a good enough film is ultimately what it is. I feel like I executed all of the stuff that could be executed, like costume and set design and special effects very well. But, ultimately, it was all resting on a somewhat not totally formed skeletal system, so the script just wasn’t there; the story wasn’t fully there.
Did you feel pressure to rush another movie?
Then why release it when you weren’t happy with it?
Because you can’t tell. You don’t know. You’re just in it.
As a filmmaker, when do you first realize it’s not working?
I don’t really remember. I think, on some level, you probably innately know. The problem with me is I get so caught up in concepts and ideas. Like I just said, the ring is so cool. The satirical idea of a diamond encrusted ring above, like, slums is such a satirically cool idea – I’m not like a normal person in the sense that I have to have a story for something to be interesting. Concepts are just as interesting to me as stories are. Where, to normal people, stories are more interesting. So, that’s an example of what I mean. I can be like, “F*ck, I love this ring, I love all the visual effects related to it, I love these images and how they’re juxtaposed with one another.” And then be like, “as a director, I could have done better.” And you sort of realize that all these people prefer this element I didn’t pay as much attention to, but I paid a lot of attention to this. Do you see what I mean?
That seems like a healthier attitude than, “I made no mistakes.”
That’s what leads to good artists though – like, the audience owes you nothing. The audience will tear you apart if you don’t provide a product.
But there is goodwill from an audience, something a movie like District 9 earned you. Audiences will give benefits of the doubt to directors they like.
Yeah, I agree with that. But I was saying is that some of the artists I know that are not good artists are the ones that are somehow clouded by the fact they did something they think is great. And the artists I really respect, that I like, are the ones that are able to very objectively stand back from work and critique it. So, that has been something I’ve always been good at. I don’t assume something’s good because I did it and I get all cloudy and f*cked up by it. There’s a separation and you got this really right and you got this really wrong – and learn from it and adapt.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.