“Oblivion”, directed by Joseph Kosinski, is a visually pleasing futuristic sci-fi movie starring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurlenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman. It has a very nice soundtrack, composed by French electronic band, M83. Unfortunately, that is about all I have to recommend it. “Oblivion” is another classic example of a film that spends a lot of time and money showing you a movie rather than telling you a story.
For those who have not seen the movie and don’t mind being spoiled, I’ll fill you in. Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a technician currently living in a little tower with his communications officer / lover Victoria (Riseborough). Jack patrols their sector in a little ship and spends his days recovering and repairing damaged sentry drones. They are damaged or stolen nightly by their enemy, alien “Scavengers” who (the story goes) attacked Earth sixty years ago, blew up the moon, and were defeated at the expense of setting off nuclear bombs in Earth’s atmosphere. The planet has been ruined for humans, and Jack and Victoria are the last clean-up team awaiting transport up to The Tet – a giant space ship in orbit that will be taking everyone to their new colony. Jack, whose memory was wiped five years earlier for security reasons, soon learns that he is actually a pawn for the alien aggressors. Jack is only one clone of thousands created to help the Tet wipe out humanity, and the movie is about him learning the truth and ultimately saving the world from the alien entity blah blah.
The movie’s got some problems. Big ones. Like last summer’s “Prometheus”, the delivery on special effects is huge; meanwhile there are gaping plot holes through which you could drive a semi-truck. I won’t go into all of my gripes with this movie (and indeed, some of the following are just annoying, rather than actual plot holes), but these are the impressions with which I was left upon leaving the theater:
12) What A Waste. How much screen time did Morgan Freeman have in this flick, anyway? Six or seven minutes? What a waste of a good actor. Meanwhile, Mr. “I’m Ethan Hunt in every movie” Cruise spends the whole movie barely emoting.
11) Where Have I Heard This Before…? An ordinary white guy goes about his business every day, dreaming of something more. Then one day a wise black dude with cool shades steps in and tells him the good guys need him to win the war against the bad guys, who have – incidentally – created an entire world to fool you into being their puppet. Sound familiar? It was called “The Matrix”. Both movies even set Earth as the ravaged backdrop for the war, which the humans themselves destroyed in order to fight off their enemy. How about Duncan Jones’s “Moon”? Aforementioned guy is isolated from the rest of the world and putters around overseeing largely automated machines. Then one day something happens and he realizes he’s one of numerous clones. One of the clones then sacrifices himself.
10) What’s With The Pool? So… Jack and Victoria (each set of them) are living in isolated apartments several thousand feet above the ground. In this post-apocalyptic world, their food comes in little pouches…we spot Victoria ripping them open at one point as she “prepares” dinner. One must assume that these supplies are dropped in regularly from the Tet. Water must get there the same way, which begs the question of just why they have a swimming pool? It seems an unnecessary indulgence to waste on a simple technician and communications officer who are dining on astronaut food every night. Or is that supposed to be their water supply? If so, aren’t they just a bit skeeved out by the idea of swimming naked in it? I guess they have a good filtration system.
9) Why So Many Clones? Most of the movie is seen through the eyes of “Technician 49”. He encounters another clone of himself with the designation “52”. It seems odd that these are such low numbers. It stands to reason that this is primarily for the audience’s benefit – it’s easier to remember 49 and 52 than it would be 20984 and 39723, for example. But as is revealed to us when Jack and Beech (Freeman) enter the Tet, there are thousands of clones. Why are there so many clones just hanging around in hibernation? Surely this is an unnecessary drain on resources? Being biological entities, they would need not only nutrition but waste-disposal systems. Also, assuming that this is a constant supply at the ready for when each of their current clones fails, that would mean that at the end of the movie there should be a lot of Jacks running around, not just one.
8) Why Even Have Clones In The First Place? It seems that the alien intelligence introduced an unnecessary supply chain. Think about it. The Tet has this amazing resource of nearly impenetrable drones that are really hard to take down. Why not apply that technology to robots? Why clone and employ human beings, which then have to be fed and watered and taken care of? Think about everything needed to keep each Jack and each Victoria alive. They need a place to live, food and water (all in pouches and the aforementioned implausible swimming pool), clothes, sheets, pillows, make-up for pity’s sake. Where is all of this stuff coming from? We are repeatedly shown atmospheric shots of landmarks destroyed and grown over, bridges buried in dried mud, etc. Who’s producing the packets of food and water? Where is Victoria’s orangey-red eyeliner coming from? Who’s designing her dresses and heels? And if the machines can do all of that, why do they need humans at all?
7) What Happened To The Original Jack And Victoria? We’re never told. Furthermore, Jack’s wife never asks. She doesn’t seem to care what happened to her actual husband, and has no problem transferring her feelings to 49 (and then on to 52 by the end).
6) Malleable Memories. Okay, so Jack’s memories and traits are somehow bleeding through his security wipe. We know it’s not just him, because 52 is shown to have experienced similar memory-leakage and attempts to convince his Victoria to go down to the surface. So are we supposed to believe that each Jack clone has built his own place in the wilderness? Beech tells him that it was Jack-clones that came down and killed everyone. So Jack’s desire to have a place of his own on Earth bleeds through and is apparently more important than his desire not to kill every other human being on Earth? Better question: It’s the “best in Jack” that begins to bleed through the memory wipe. So why is Victoria portrayed as strictly following regulations, using sex to distract and manipulate, and betraying Jack when on the Odyssey she faithfully refused to abandon him? Yes, this was so the audience is left wondering for most of the movie if she is in on this whole conspiracy – if she’s one of the bad guys – but it does her absolutely no credit and is rather unfair to her character.
5) Drone 166, Where Are You? After the drone with the bomb is destroyed in the attack, why does Jack immediately leap to the conclusion that he’ll have to fly the bomb up to the Tet himself? Did he forget about drone 166? The same drone that kept showing up all throughout the movie until he finally reached in and ripped out its fuel cell after fighting with clone 52? 166 was just sitting out there in the sand, obviously still operational and flight-worthy, just missing its power source. If he could reprogram the drone the rebels had confiscated to deliver their payload, surely he could have done the same for drone 166 and not had to die?
4) Weird Science? No, Just Bad. Okay, so correct me if I’m wrong. But for the past 50-60 years the Tet has been using those intergalactic vacuum cleaners to suck up the ocean, right? Nonstop for at least half a century. We see evidence of it everywhere as Jack flies or rides across barren land that used to be the bottom of the ocean, with only large puddles and sinkholes left behind. Yet the weather is sunny and clear with large, fluffy clouds for the vast majority of the movie. This takes no account of the huge role that the ocean plays in regards to our planet’s weather. According to How Stuff Works, “Besides transferring heat to the atmosphere, the ocean also adds water to the air through evaporation. When the sun’s heat causes surface water to evaporate, warm water vapor rises into the atmosphere. As the water vapor rises higher, it cools into tiny water droplets and ice crystals, which collect together to form large clouds. The clouds soon return their moisture to the surface as rain, snow, sleet, or hail.” So not only should the planet be a lot colder, it probably shouldn’t have any clouds.
Furthermore, we’re told (and shown, several times) that the moon was blown up at the start of the war. There is a total disregard for what would have happened to the planet should such an event have actually occurred. Per AstroBio.net, “If you would take away the Moon suddenly, it would change the global altitude of the ocean. Right now there is a distortion which is elongated around the equator, so if we didn’t have this effect, suddenly a lot of water would be redistributed toward the polar regions.“ This might actually account for the huge amounts of dried mud that seem to have half-buried the bridge featured in several scenes. But it should also have brought much shorter days (about eight hours) and much stronger winds (AstroSociety.org). So all of these catastrophic things should really have happened, and yet at the end of the movie we’re meant to believe that humanity’s just going to bounce back and grow tomatoes like nothing happened, with nary a shift in the weather.
3) I Just Have To Know… What do machines need with salt water, anyway? Sure, the whole “Aliens have come to our planet to steal our resources” theme is a common one in sci-fi. But when the aliens in question are sentient machines declaring themselves our god, you have to wonder just why they want salt water?
2) Abandon Reason All Ye Who Enter Here. So Beech captures Jack and Julia (Kurylenko). He tells Jack that he wants him to reprogram their captured drone to deliver a bomb to the Tet. In fact, he needs him to do this, because no one else can. Instead of explaining to Jack why he wants him to do this, he releases him with Julia and mentions that he might want to check out what’s in the radiation zones. Through a convenient series of events, Jack ends up locked out of his house and chased by drones into one of the radiation zones where he encounters clone 52. Their struggle results in Julia somehow being hit by one stray shot (out in the middle of nowhere, and it manages to hit a tiny, 100-pound woman), and Jack returns to 52’s tower to get a medical supply kit. He then cottons on to the whole scheme where there are multiple versions of him and Victoria dotted all across the planet. The pair return to Beech, who tells Jack that if he’d told him the truth, Jack never would have believed him. Okay. I guess Jack just had to see it for himself. This is. So. Lame. This version of Jack is the one that has caught Beech’s attention because he’s different from all of the others. He says this very clearly. Yet he lets him go off by himself to possibly get killed while he discovers the truth? Why wouldn’t he have…oh, I don’t know…attempted to explain? And then maybe taken Jack out to another zone to see for himself? Since he was sort of important, and all?
1) What? Sixty years ago, the Odyssey deviated from its mission to investigate the approaching Tet. Jack disengaged the flight capsule from the sleeping pod section of the ship, telling Victoria that it was programmed for re-entry. Jack and Victoria then disappear into the Tet and are doomed to become the origin of innumerable clones. The section of the Odyssey carrying the rest of the crew in hibernation then…what? Orbited Earth for over half a century? I thought it was programmed to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere? Didn’t the Tet notice it up there somewhere in the intervening decades?
And okay, assuming it did just endlessly orbit up there, and the Tet didn’t notice it, why did it crash land during the events of the movie? Oh, because it received a signal from the “Scavs”. Oh wait, but the Scavs are actually Beech’s gang of human survivors. So why did they send up a signal telling the Odyssey to land? Why did they wait until just then? Did they know the survivors would be killed off by drones? Was it all just a plan to see what Jack #49 would do? But if they did do this on purpose, not only is it quite morally questionable of them, it also doesn’t explain why Beech later seems surprised to find out who Julia was. Not that the movie bothers trying to explain any of the above; it’s never mentioned at all.
In the end, I felt that this movie was a waste of time. If Jack had been played by someone other than Tom Cruise I might have had more interest in him, but the last character Cruise played with any degree of range was Lestat in 1994’s “Interview With A Vampire”. We’ve already seen him be intense and desperate in just about everything since, so I found myself mostly unmoved by his quest for the truth. Kurylenko’s Julia appears amazingly un-devastated by her actual husband’s capture and cloning, and quite willing to love whichever clone of his that happens to be in front of her at any given time. Freeman, as I mentioned, is squandered in this film.
Bottom line, I recommend forgetting about “Oblivion”. Give the M83 soundtrack a listen, and then spend your time more wisely by re-watching “The Matrix” at home.