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7 Things to Know About Elysium

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Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to District 9, hits theaters today. Here are a few things to know about the film.

1. The film is set in 2154—and Blomkamp thinks his dystopian vision of Earth will come to pass.

In the film, the have-nots live on a polluted and overcrowded Earth, while the have-lots live in an idyllic space station called Elysium, where there's no sickness or poverty. When Max—a blue-collar Earthling with a criminal past—has an accident on the job that gives him just five days to live, he makes it his business to get to Elysium and get cured.

The disparity that Blomkamp portrays in Elysium isn't all that far from reality—many cities around the world have pockets of wealth surrounded by slums. And Blomkamp thinks it will only get worse. His vision of Earth is "a total step backwards, compared with where people think we're going," he told io9. "It's just diseased. It's like a complete lack of technology, and Third World. ... But I think that's where we're going."

2. Before he started shooting—or casting—Blomkamp created a graphic novel as a reference.

Most of his films begin with a visual concept, and Elysium was no exception. “It absolutely blew my mind," Damon told Wired. The book featured not only detailed illustrations of the film's universe and its weapons and technology, but also how Blomkamp wanted Max to look. "Neill was so specific ... He actually had a picture with my face tacked onto this guy with this body," the 42-year-old actor told Variety. Pulling off that muscle-bound look wasn't easy, either. "They literally hired me a trainer and I went to him with the picture," he said. "It was four hours a day in the gym—and I’m not 26 anymore but I got in shape.”

3. Damon wasn’t Blomkamp’s first choice for Max.

First, Blomkamp approached Ninja from the South African musical group Die Antwoord, who turned him down because, according to Wired, he “didn’t want his first screen role to be an American-accented character in such a high-profile film.” Next, the director went to Eminem, who was game—but only if the movie was shot in Detroit. Finally, in 2010, Blomkamp cast Damon, who told MTV that he didn't mind about being third in line for the role. "I just found out about Eminem because I read it somewhere," he said. "It's the kind of thing like ... asking your girlfriend about ex-boyfriends. You don't want to know, and it doesn't affect your relationship. You just get the parts you get."

4. The set for 2154 Los Angeles was the second largest garbage dump in the world.

Soundstages in Vancouver served as the set for Elysium, but to create Blomkamp's vision of a dystopian Los Angeles in 2154, the crew shot for two weeks in a dump in Mexico City, which Damon has said were the toughest two weeks of his career. Because the dust kicked up by the production wasn't dust. It was fecal matter.

"[We had to] literally eat s**t," he said. "It was explained to us that, like any dump anywhere in the world, the dust is actually comprised largely of fecal matter. So, at the end of every day, as we'd wipe this stuff off, we'd be basically throwing these s**tty towels at each other." Meanwhile, during one sequence, Damon's stunt double got soaked in pig urine.

According to the LA Times, conditions were so toxic that at one point the production had to scrape off the top layer of silt and replace it with prop garbage, and the crew had to pass through a clean zone before lunch. 

Shooting in Mexico City also called for increased security. "I very specifically scouted the areas because I wanted them to be as run-down as possible," Blomkamp told Esquire. "That was Matt's only trepidation—the security in Mexico City. He's very game, but the whole thing there is kidnapping, and it's different with him than it is with you or me. He's internationally recognized. People know he's in the country. We had to hire a security firm. Our security guys would run different routes to the set in the morning, do reconnaissance, make sure there were in-and-out routes everyplace we went."

5. Syd Mead designed some of the Elysium sets.

Blomkamp is a huge fan of future-minded designer Syd Mead—whose work you might recognize from films like Blade Runner, Tron, and Aliens. So he asked Mead to help out with Elysium. "I did a rendering for National Geographic on space travel and the future," Mead told Vulture. "One of them was a view inside a 'torus' kind of world. I call it inverse perspective because the ground plane goes up out of sight, up into the ceiling. He saw that rendering years ago, and that fascinated him. Elysium is one of the few or only films with that inverted perspective." The two met in Vancouver, and Mead signed on to help design the space station's briefing and control rooms.

6. Weta Workshop created the film's weapons.

From futuristic AK-47s to deadly droids, all of Elysium's weapons are fully realized. According to Wired, they were designed in a yearlong collaboration between Weta, Blomkamp, and conceptual artist Doug Williams. At a press conference during San Diego Comic Con 2012, Damon said that "Neil and the guys at Weta Workshop came up with all these things; they worked, they made sense, all these guns. You'd see these guys with battery packs on, really kind of gnarly weapons that don't exist in the world that we live in but you totally buy them when you see them. Just seeing them on set, you'd say, ‘This looks like some terrible weapon that someone is going to invent someday.'"

The company also built the exoskeleton that Damon's character wears. "They did a really good job," he told the Huffington Post. "By the time I got it, they got it down to 25 pounds. [It was] distributed over my whole body, so it really wasn't bad." According to press notes for the film, the HULC suit required eight months of research and development and 75 revisions just to finalize the design.

7. The design of Elysium's space station is based on real science.

Specifically, a design called the Stanford Torus, proposed by NASA in 1975. Scientists envisioned a donut-shaped ring over a mile in diameter that would rotate once a minute to create artificial gravity on the inside of the ring via centrifugal force and hold 10,000 people. It would be built from materials from the Moon. Behold:

But although its design is scientifically accurate, Blomkamp admits that the way he imagines Elysium would have been built is not. "Elysium is 'Bel-Air in Space,'" he told io9. "The dark satire of like building a mansion in space—with the weight of taking stones and sh** up there [from Earth]—is hilarious, you know? It's not scientifically plausible, but it's incredibly funny."

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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