Oblivion

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.

One of the main issues with Oblivion for a savvy SF audience is that it’s in many ways a $120 million version of another recent, much smaller, much more innovative science-fiction movie. That movie is also about a workaday schmoe living out his days in isolation, palling around with a somewhat spooky robot guardian, and hanging onto memories of a woman while looking forward to the end of his shift. And that movie also has him finding out his entire world is a lie, and he’s just the latest clone to be slotted into his particular well-regulated job. And that movie also ends with one clone sacrificing himself so the other one can finally start a real life. Problem is, I don’t want to name that film, because it’s a more startling, complicated, and humanistic take on the story, and I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. Suffice it to say that Oblivion, in that context, seems even more like a hollow echo.

But even leaving that one aside, Oblivion often seems like a spectacularly polished-up collection of previous SF ideas and images. The initial setup, with a lone guardian on a destroyed Earth, sounds a lot like the setup for WALL-E, though in execution, it feels more like Silent Running, with a sprinkling of the Will Smith I Am Legend in the way Cruise amuses himself by owning what’s left of the world. The implacable drones are slick TIE fighters with dual side guns instead of dual solar panels, and with HAL 9000 glaring red eyeballs. (There’s even a big Star Wars-esque canyon chase/shootout where the hotshot pilot takes them down.) The giant wall of floating clones in the mothership could come from The Matrix or Battlestar Galactica. The approach to the Tet at the end of the film feels like the Millennium Falcon getting sucked into the Death Star, but the “let’s go to the enemy ship’s core and activate this trap” idea visually plays out like the end of Independence Day, or for that matter, Tron. (And by the way, it’s pretty ridiculous that once Cruise and Morgan Freeman pulled their big reveal, they then had several minutes to fiddle with their bomb and quote poetry before hitting the button. There’s dramatic tension, and then there’s “I’m going to kill you! Eventually. Once I rearrange this wiring I meant to do before I took off.”)

None of these are insurmountable problems; fiction plays off tropes all the time. But it’s always distracting when a movie turns into spot-the-reference. TVTropes.org is going to have a field day with this one.