Come on, Oblivion wasn’t that bad, was it? I saw it in an old theater with a green stripe running through the film for the last twenty minutes and mono-sound and I still enjoyed it. Yet critics have condemned it to be a “mash-up” of The Matrix, Wall-E, and Star Wars. Really?
Estimates of how many movies have ever been made range from 700,000 (the number of the IMDb catalog) to as much as five million. Star Wars came out in 1977, and it’s arguable that every science fiction space movie since has had a bit of “Star Wars” in it. And The Matrix? That ground-breaking film set style tones for hundreds of films which followed, from Equilibrium to Underworld. And Wall-E is an animated family film. (I can see some parallels – Wall-E was left behind on Earth to clean up, and so was Tom Cruise’s “Tech-49” more or less, and each of them gave their girlfriend a green plant, with unromantic results, but, come on.)
If anything, Oblivion bears resemblances to Solaris, for its ponderous dream-sequences and languishing cinematography. It also harkens Moon, the excellent 2009 flick with Sam Rockwell. (Sam’s job was to take care of the Helium 3 generators, and Tech 49’s job is to keep the hydrogen-deuterium machines going.) Maybe even, just a little bit, there are hints of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for the Spartan nature of the production design and the intellectual framework of a man traveling down the sci-fi rabbit hole.
Come to think of it now, Oblivion also reminds me of the Mad Max trilogy. That barren, wasteland, the eradication of resources, those crazily dressed, apocalypse-dwellers. And, well, 1984, too – Melissa Leo’s “Sally” as the face of Tet, the all-seeing eye in the sky was an incarnation of Big Brother. And, you know, now that I’m on the subject, Oblivion also reminisces the future dystopia showcased in Cloud Atlas, and in The Book of Eli, all of the Planet of the Apes movies (“You’re human; you did it to yourself”). In fact, when Tom Cruise puts on the ball cap and starts playing some fantasy football he kind of reminded me of…well, Tom Cruise in the remake of War of the Worlds.
I think the point I’m trying to make here – if I may mercifully come to a point – is that I believe we’re past the time when we can expect something to stand on its own as truly original. Even the earlier films we may point out as seminal works invariably have some source material they’ve borrowed from. The thing is, it’s just getting harder to conceal it.
Oblivion worked. As a film, it was entertaining, sexy, visually sumptuous, not entirely predictable, and fun. There was excitement and spectacle. It didn’t exactly zip along with the sleek speed of, say, The Matrix, and it didn’t necessarily offer anything too shiny and new to people, which is where the criticism comes from, I think. All the same, the sound engineering on those drones made them totally riveting, and it was actually refreshing to watch a film which, while it had some violence, didn’t have buckets of blood slopping the camera every time someone took a bullet (I watched Django on DVD the night before attending Oblivion).
The comedian Nick Swarsdon says “People are so jaded now. Like, if you showed that movie fifty years ago people would be like ‘aaaahhhh! Ppplbbbt!’ Their brains would explode. ‘Aaaaahhhh!’ Everybody would lose their minds.”
I admit I can be a bit jaded, too. But where my criticism comes from is in estimating whether or not I consider the movie to have “worked.” If a movie was a house, I’m not going to judge it because it’s Cape Cod, or it’s Victorian, and I feel it’s stolen from other houses of the same style, but whether or not it was built well. Is it warm? How is the water pressure? Does it leak?
Oblivion wasn’t the best film I’ve seen this year, but it kept me warm and dry.