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Neill Blomkamp has a Niche

Neill Blomkamp might be the next big thing in the science fiction genre. The South African director exploded onto the scene in 2009 with District 9. The quasi-documentary about aliens in Johannesburg topped $100 million at the domestic box office and worked its way into IMDB’s rankings of the top 250 films of all time (#230 at this writing). In an era starved for originality, Blomkamp’s unique style and storytelling was a ray of light.

After four years behind the curtain, Blomkamp re-emerged this summer with his sophomore effort, Elysium. But despite the buzz leading up to the film and the casting of a bonafide star in Matt Damon, to this point, Elysium hasn’t elicited a huge response. Sure, it’s made its money back at the box office (even if it trails District 9 in total receipts) and critics have given it a pass. But it’s certainly not the mainstream breakthrough that some might have anticipated for Blomkamp.

Still, in the aftermath of Elysium, the sense I get about Blomkamp is that despite being underwhelmed, the public has not soured on him. There is still hope that greatness may be in his future.

But I have to question whether Blomkamp really has that much more to say. As distinct as Blomkamp’s style is from other directors, District 9 and Elysium have an eerily similar look. Sci-fi robotics in the shantytown. And there isn’t much divergence in the several short films Blomkamp made before being discovered by Peter Jackson either (robots and aliens as metaphors for the marginalized in society).

This screenshot is from Elysium. Or District 9.

And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Scorsese makes a lot of mob movies. Judd Apotow makes a lot of white-people-problem movies. But how much more shantytown sci-fi does anyone really have an appetite for? Sure, it was original in District 9, but in Elysium it already feels familiar. That’s why I’m keen to see where the chips fall with Blomkamp’s next project . Blomkamp plans to follow-up District 9 and Elysium with Chappie. Entertainment Weekly reports that Chappie will follow the story of “a robot that gets abducted by a pair of gangsters, played by Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi Visser.”

Robotics? Check.

Poverty? Check.

And who or what is Die Antwoord? I’m going to have to defer to the picture here.

Die Antwoord’s genre is described as “rap rave.” Their music videos are described as “scary.”

And here is a video. But as strange as Ninja and Yolandi Visser (who, like Blomkamp, both hail from South Africa) appear to be , their vibe seems a pretty natural fit into the Blomkamp universe.

I’m intrigued by Chappie. And I’ve certainly enjoyed tracking Blomkamp thus far. But I do wonder if the conversation on him is about to switch from “next big thing in sci-fi” to “really strange niche guy.”