In the future, Earth has pretty much turned into a garbage dump. So where better to film "Elysium" than at one of the world's biggest trash heaps?
The sci-fi film, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, envisions a future 150 years from now where the elite live on a colossal space station — and those much less fortunate still live on the wasteland that has been made of Earth.
The planet scenes were shot at a massive 975-acre landfill — about the size of West Hollywood, California — just outside of Mexico City. Bordo Poniente houses more than 76 million tons of trash, having received 12,700 tons of garbage daily before being shuttered in early 2012, when it reached capacity. And "Elysium" filmed there just days before the closing date.
While filming, "Elysium" workers wore latex gloves and masks due to the strong smell and direct contact with the dense pile of waste that emits nearly 1.5 million tons of methane per year, according to the Clinton Foundation.
It was likely a point of discomfort for Damon, who plays Max, an earthling who takes the desperate measure of suiting up to combat the privileged space dwellers in order to save his own life. If you watch the trailer, you'll see that Damon must have braved the foul smells — no face mask!
Perhaps his muscles warded off the health risks. Damon spent about a year building muscle for the role, admitting he put in a lot of time at the gym. "I had to like just literally go to the gym for like four hours a day," Damon told reporters last summer. "[It] was kind of fun in its own way, actually, you know, at my age, to be given an excuse to do that, 'cause it's not something you ever really do otherwise!"
During filming in late 2011, the trash heap in Mexico was heavily guarded. Trucks and staff had to go through a checkpoint, a local media outlet reported at the time. Tents, cars, campers, and even a helicopter were spotted moving to and from the site.
The art department spent about a week collecting trash and debris to construct the film's postapocalyptic backdrop.
But the film's rather earthy Earth setting wasn't the only thing dirty about "Elysium." Writer-director Neill Blomkamp wanted his hero's armor to be equally scrappy and forced some strategic product placement to further illustrate his junkyard suit. "I personally wrote emails to companies I wanted to try to get into the film to try to add realism to it. And one of my favorite ones is Kawasaki, which is on his suit," said Blomkamp, the mastermind behind 2009's Oscar-nominated "District 9."
"So the idea was it was some sort of low-end, almost a dirt bike, like a motocross kind of version of a strength suit that was born out of research that the military is doing now," he added, pointing out HULC (Human Universal Load Carrier) suits that are in development by the U.S. Army today for enhanced strength. "I just wanted it to look really grungy and extremely sort of low-end and kind of real."
"Elysium" enters theaters Aug. 9.
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