Based on a graphic novel Oblivion is a film featuring futuristic technology eye-candy and Tom Cruise. According to the writer Kosinski, Oblivion pays homage to science fiction films of the 1970s. Hmm… seems more than just a homage and more than just one decade of films.

It works, but only because of films that have gone before and the references to those genre classics. If we were not emotionally attached to those key moments already (for instance if our memories were ‘security wiped’ like the characters in the film) would it still work quite so well? Yes, probably and people would be walking around saying how original it all was. But beyond the originality of some of the design aspects (which seem to owe more to Apple than any other future thinker) anyone with half a brain can see plundered plot points galore.

First of all after the obligatory spoilers alert (there it was) can I first just poo-poo the whole idea that aliens that have crossed the solar system (if not galaxy) to steal our water would need a bloke to keep an eye on their machines as totally frickin’ ludicrous. That overall criticism done let’s go into finer detail.

Another specific plot point, this one minor, that was a bit crappy is a double-header and revolves around the tractor beam at the end of the film / flashback to the start of the story of how Jack Harper got there. Apart from the obvious Star Wars reference here (more to follow) the first point is that the idea that the aliens would let part of a big spaceship be jettisoned but keep hold of only the front bit is silly. The second point is that Harper is listening to a flight recorder recovered from the jettisoned rear section of the NASA craft Odyssey (interesting choice of name there) which contains recordings of the whole conversation on board including dialogue recorded after the rear section was jettisoned; and I would expect the ‘black-box’ to be held in the forward section of the spacecraft not the rear section containing the hibernation chambers.

Onto film references:

Star Wars – as well as the tractor beam, we have looking over a desert through goggles to see if there are any Scavs about (and they look like sand people) and a fight between the ‘bubble ship’ and three drones in a canyon which is not dissimilar to the X-Wing vs Tie Fighter sequence at the end of A New Hope.

Moon – a clone, who doesn’t know he’s a clone, looking after machines operating in a desolate environment.

The Matrix – survivors from a war hiding underground from a mechanical enemy led by an enigmatic black dude wearing sunglasses. The drones, while having straight and right-angled flight patterns, still had the red eyes of the squiddies and dropped dead once the mother ship had been destroyed like in the final Matrix film. Yes I know red camera eyes were nicked from 2001: A Space Odyssey (see below). Also the shot of bubbles containing the clones is more Matrix than Moon.

2001: A Space Odyssey – the design of the drone was almost blatant copy of the design of the EVA pods in Kubrick’s classic. Their red camera eyes the same as HAL the mental computer. The iPhone white styling is also very 2001 and also a lot like Tron also.

Planet of the Apes – iconic American landmarks in post-apocalyptic desert anyone?

Battle: Los Angeles – Aliens steal our water – the blighters!

Stargate – A giant triangular looking thing hangs in the sky. Flipping it upside down doesn’t disguise the robbery.

Independence Day (among others) – A mothership can be taken down by sending up a tinkered-with drone ship. I would have loved to have seen some aliens on board the thing at the end of the film instead of the hovering eye claiming to be Harper’s god. As for the hero’s sacrifice – I think I’ve covered that enough times now – it’s not so much a stolen plot point as a Hollywood trope – see previous posts on Batman Rises and Avengers Assemble amongst others.

Total Recall – a memory of a woman from the past that seems false, but that keeps coming back to haunt our hero. Solaris is in the mix too.

Tron – hero befriends seemingly a rare specimen of a threatened species against the non-human baddies. In this case it was Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) brought out of cryogenic sleep after 60 years – not quite Aliens, but I’ll be silly and chuck it in there too.

War of the Worlds – the alien weapons disintegrate humans into clouds of cinders.

Wall-E – a caretaker fixes up stuff on a deserted Earth while the humans have gone off someplace else. He nurtures a plant amid the post-apocalyptical desolation.

Prometheus – it was filmed in Iceland. It seems that the future according to Hollywood looks like Iceland. Unfortunately I know what Iceland looks like and it looks like Iceland. Maybe the future in Iceland will look like Iceland, but as for anywhere else? Iceland seems to be the New York of sci-films.

Here are two other clichés that are niggling at me but I can’t place:

  • A hidden secret place amongst the destruction where the hero goes (against orders) to chill out.
  • Areas marked as radioactive which are in fact okay.

Then there is the soundtrack. I know the film was by the director of Tron, but I didn’t realise Daft Punk had been called back into the recording studio. They weren’t, it was equally French ‘band’ M83, but they might as well have been – it is less electronic but still very similar.

And yet. And yet. It was a thoroughly enjoyable film. It looked great. It was exciting, sounded great, Tom Cruise and the supporting cast all did good turns, and had a reasonably satisfying if not predictable storyline.