Exclusive: Neill Blomkamp on his next sci-fi film, Chappie

News Ryan Lambie
11 Jun 2013 - 07:02

We can exclusively reveal that Elysium and District 9 director Neill Blomkamp's next film will be based on his 2003 short, Tetra Vaal...

From his earliest short films, filmmaker Neill Blomkamp has shown an uncanny ability to fuse the low-fi and the high-tech. His first feature, the Oscar-nominated District 9, did just that, while also matching incisive social commentary with huge sci-fi guns and exhilarating action.

Those now familiar themes and styles are again present in Blomkamp's latest film, Elysium, due out in August. Starring Matt Damon, it's about an injured factory worker trying to find a way onto an orbiting space platform that is home to the rich and powerful. In the process, he becomes drawn into a wider struggle that involves Jodie Foster's glacial Secretary Delacourt, and a ferocious assassin played by Sharlto Copley.

Interest in Blomkamp's films is such that there's already talk about what might come next. For the past year, all we've really known about Blomkamp's next film is that it's called Chappie, that he'll be writing it with District 9 co-writer Terri Tatchell, and that Sharlto Copley will be starring in it. In July last year, Blomkamp told Empire that Chappie is "comedy based" and features a "ridiculous robot character."

Other than that, little's been said about Blomkamp's next movie - until now, that is.

We had the chance to have a brief chat with Blomkamp recently, and we asked him about his science fiction influences, particularly from such Japanese artists as Masamune Shirow. After all, the rabbit-eared robot in one of Blomkamp's first and most well-known short films, Tetra Vaal, looks quite a lot like the cyborg Briareos Hecatonchires in Shirow's 80s manga series, Appleseed.

It was during this conversation that Blomkamp revealed something rather exciting: Chappie is, in his own words, "basically based on Tetra Vaal."

This means that, just as the 2006 short Alive In Joberg formed the genesis of District 9, so Chappie will expand on the ideas in 2003's Tetra Vaal. If you haven't seen Tetra Vaal before, here it is:

Taking the form of a faux corporate marketing video, Tetra Vaal introduces a form of robot law enforcer that is specifically designed to patrol third-world countries. "What if we could build a system to help police of developing nations?" the onscreen blurb reads. "What if it could be rebuilt and improved upon?"

This is almost certainly the "ridiculous robot character" Blomkamp talked about in that earlier interview - and we know the version we'll see in Chappie will retain one of his distinctive features: those twitching rabbit antennae. "You'll see some more Briareos ears," Blomkamp revealed.

Although this is by no means confirmed, IMDb lists Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er as actors in Chappie. The pair are members of the South African group Die Antwoord, and have collaborated with Blomkamp before - they appeared in the incredibly strange shaky-cam video that appeared about three years ago. It's just possible, then - though this bit's purely conjecture - that Chappie will retain Tetra Vaal's South African setting, too, and may even return to District 9's Johannesberg. The presence of Eugene Khumbanyiwa - who played Obesandjo in District 9 - lends further weight to this theory.

As for Sharlto Copley, that he's been confirmed as the lead begs an intriguing question: will he be playing the rabbit-eared robot, perhaps in a motion-captured performance? When we put this question to Blomkamp, he merely smiled enigmatically and said, "Maybe".

All of this brings up all sorts of tantalising questions and possibilities. But for now, one thing we do know is that Tetra Vaal is currently the closest thing we have to a trailer for Blomkamp's next film - and that, for us, is extremely exciting news.

Elysium is released in August. We'll have a lot more on it closer to then.

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