So the other night I went to see Oblivion and seeing as the internet is all about ruining things (just look at the porn industry) I thought I’d turn my sights on the latest of Cruise’s Scientology propaganda. Although if it is about Scientology then by the thetan did they hide those messages well. This is no Battlefield Earth, this is something completely different. Which might be a good thing considering that film was utter crap.
However, and I cannot overstate this enough: OBLIVION IS THE MOST CONVOLUTED FILM EVER. OF ALL TIME. The number of plot twists in this film is truly staggering and they mount up like a rickety house of cards built on another rickety house of cards built on top of an electric fan. It’s not that the film doesn’t make sense, there’s kind of a plot by the end of it. It’s just that by the time that the film has finished, its gone through so many twists and turns that you’re fairly certain that whoever wrote this thing had dementia and the only thought they managed to retain throughout the writing process was “Oh, it’s time for a plot twist”. This is a film that fails to keep up with itself.
THERE WILL BE PLOT SPOILERS!!
1. Drone 166 is the most important character…
…And no one in the fucking film remembers that. Oblivion is a film of many potentials and the first of those is the character Drone 166. For those unfamiliar with the plot, Jack “Tom Cruise” Harper (could that name be anymore generic?) is a technician who spends his days fixing flying drones who spend their time defending giant vacuums from space aliens. Or something like that. At the start of the film-ish (we’ll get to that) Jack-aaaaaaaah-saviour-of-the-universe goes out to fix 166 which got shot down by the aliens. It sets up a nice bit of personalisation of 166 when Jack-super-dude is told by his call-lady (we’ll come to her later) that he can’t fix it. Jack-saved-the-day uses plain old gum to fix 166 and bring him back to life, totally baffling his very clever companion.
A little later in the film Jack-hero-of-the-hour gets himself stuck down a cavern with a bunch of space aliens about ready to tear him a new one. His escape line breaks and there’s no way out before he’s mince meat. 166, however, shows up and saves his ass by blowing the aliens to pieces. It’s a timely arrival and one that sets a standing relationship between the two.
It’s these and a couple of other moments that seem to suggest that 166 is going to have a role to play in the film.
After the inevitable betrayal that happens during the film, 166 and a couple of his buddies chase after Jack-Reacher and while the buddies die 166 keeps going. He’s knocked down by Jack-hero-of-the-hour but not out. Jack-gonna-save-the-world pulls his power cell out which isn’t killing 166 so much as knocking him out or putting him in coma. So he’s fully functional, just out of juice.
This point is then utterly fucking wasted.
Even later on in the film (because the quantity of plot points clearly equals quality) the good guy’s plan is to use a captured drone which Jack-our-last-hope reprograms to send a mega bomb of future energy to the heart of the enemy and blow that evil-ness to pieces. Only the plan gets scuppered by another bunch of drones (166 not among them) who shoot a bunch of people and destroy the drone that was supposed to carry the bomb. Without a drone to carry the bomb anymore Jack-Jesus-Christ-Superstar decides the only thing to do is get in his ship and fly the bomb to the heart of the enemy himself.
Which he does, and right before they set off the nuke he and Will Smith have some witty banter and light cigars. All the while totally forgetting that there is a fully functional drone just sitting out in the desert. 166 is literally just sitting there gathering dust and totally forgotten about. Jack-gotta-catch-them-all has the bomb and he has the technical skill to reprogram drones (his whole reason for being involved in the plan at all). All he needs to do is go out to the desert, reprogram 166 and send him on his way. 166 goes from being a potentially brilliant character to being as pointless as Ed Miliband’s career. He’s the generic villain, the lieutenant, worse even considering that they don’t even give him a one-liner when he goes down. Yet if they had remembered 166 it would have totally changed the ending of the movie and potentially given us something different/interesting.
2. No one in this film can come up with a coherent battleplan
Ok, so the humans fuck up royally by needlessly sending their leader to his death all because Jack-have-you-heard-about-dianetics was too dumb to remember that he left a drone lying out in the desert. But that moment of horrendous stupidity was only possible because the main villain of the film was even stupider.
The main villain of the film is what Jack-I’ve-run-the-fuck-out-of-things-to-add originally thought was the space station that was going to take him to a new home on Titan. It’s not a space station, it’s an alien.
We’ll get to the Tet, as they call it, a little later. What is really stupid is the Tet’s take over plan for Earth. You see, it starts out pretty cleverly by blasting the shit out the moon which fucks gravity for the planet causing earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis and everything you see in 2012 to happen. That does for most of humanity. After that the Tet decides to roger strategy in the ass by dealing with the rest of humanity with an army of these:
That’s right, Cruise turns out to be a clone the whole time. The Tet sends an army of Cruise-alikes down to earth to mop up any resistance. Which is a seriously crap plan for a number of reasons:
1. A plot point (fuck me how many are there!?) is that Jack’s work area is surrounded by radiation that will kill him if he strays into it. In reality these radiation markers are a way to keep all the clones from bumping into each other. Why? Because not a one of these clones can handle the fact that they are a) clones and b) working for an alien. It’s a major point of the movie. They are intentionally being kept from one another in order not to have to deal with that very issue. Yet according to Morgan Freeman when their job was to wipe out humanity they did not have a problem with a) being clones or b) working for an alien. But that couldn’t have worked because in order to get Jack to do his job the Tet had to create a fake story to do it. This would mean that Jack would NOT be ok with just straight up murdering fellow humans or the fact that there were hundreds of Jacks running about the place.
2. But let’s go the other way. If there was an army of clones that was ok with killing humans AND the duplicates running around, then the film makes even less sense. If the Tet can get the clones to do that then why come up with the cover story for the repair crew? It could just tell the clones to fix drones and that’s what they’d do. A clone dies? Not a problem, send another. If the Tet can do that, the set up it actually creates is completely needless. And it’s another missed opportunity for the film. Jack’s whole questioning of his world would have been a lot more interesting if he knew he was a clone and had other clones around him. Not only that, we’d have got to have a bunch of scenes in which we saw Tom Cruise die. And I mean actually watch him get shot, not an off screen death like the one he actually gets. Over and over. AND THAT WOULD BE AWESOME!!
5. The Tet is Scottish
All of the above is pointless however because later on in the film we discover that the Tet in NO WAY needed an army of clones. By the time of the invasion, most of humanity has already starved to death as Morgan Freeman narrates. And the only infallible certainties in this universe are the things that Morgan Freeman narrates. So really they were on their last legs and not really able to mount much of a defence. Which then makes it baffling why the Tet used clones and didn’t just rely on these guys…
Those cannons are so powerful they literally explode people! Cruise has an assault rifle that is just an assault rifle. These things turn people to ash. (Which makes no sense either by the way). Throughout the film every person you see get shot is exploded as if this entire film is an alternative version of Watchmen and Dr. Manhatten really did just decide to kill everyone on earth because they couldn’t figure out how to get along. But when Cruise goes to fix 166 the first time there are clearly bodies lying on the ground. At first when you think they’re aliens, that’s ok. Later in the film when you realise they’re actually humans who explode on impact with drone bullets, then there is no reason for there to be bodies. So why didn’t the Tet just send down hordes of these things to kill humanity off? A single drone is massively more effective than Jack as proven when 166 saves his ass.
However, Jack’s whole purpose in life is to fix drones which is no understatement when you remember he’s a clone made for just that purpose. So perhaps there was a limited supply and clones are a more cost effective weapon for the Tet. Before the truth is revealed, Jack is constantly told that the Tet is short on supplies and so he can only do patch jobs on the drones and he’s not going to get reinforcements/replacements. It’s why he repairs 166 with gum!
Fair enough, even aliens have resource limitations. Only this one doesn’t, because when we actually get inside the Tet we see there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of drones just sitting there doing nothing. The Tet can quite clearly replicate as many drones as it needs. And when you realise this you realise that NONE of the events of the film should have happened. For every drone the Tet sends to scout an area it could have sent three. But humanity is crafty and they wear voice boxes and black which totally confuses the drones.
Aside: the film reveals this to be the most pointless tactic ever, of all time. The whole “let’s pretend we’re aliens” plan is to confuse the drones because the drones are programmed to kill humans. So the less human-like they are, the more likely a drone isn’t going to bother with them. Only this consistently fails thanks to 166. Right after Jack repairs 166 a dog shows up and starts yapping away. Jack then freaks because 166 is waking up, he clearly knows that the drone is going to see the dog and SHOOT it. For all the good there is about 166 if he had shot the dog this would have become the most hated film of my life. People who hurt dogs are worse than Hitler. FACT. The point is the drones shoot animals too. And then later while the humans are all pretending not to be human-like 166 shoots the crap out of them all anyway.
Anyway. Let’s accept that wearing all black makes you 10x harder to kill (otherwise known as the Matrix effect). Aside from hunting the remaining humans down, the drones’ main job is to protect a number of giant vacuum cleaners that are sucking up water and turning it into energy for the Tet. Because that’s original… These things are literally feeding the Tet. And because Jack’s struggling to keep up with the drone repairs because he lacks the resources, one night the humans get close enough to blow one of them up. All because there weren’t enough drones. Even though there were hundreds of them inside the Tet doing nothing.
So let me be absolutely clear: at every turn the Tet uses the absolute minimum of resources to the point where a) it lets its enemies survive and b) lets those very enemies destroy its food source. The only logical explanation for that is that the Tet is downright stingy. The Tet is Scottish. It is the only way to explain the Tet’s actions that doesn’t mean the Tet is just plain stupid. Well, sort of…
4. Someone in this movie was a noob.
There is a glaring plot hole in this film. And by plot hole I mean a genuine inconsistency rather than a convoluted plot that’s gotten way out of control. Unlike everything else that just fails to make sense, this is a genuine contradiction.
You see, the event that kicks everything off in this film is a spaceship that crash lands out in the wasteland (It’s about 30 minutes into the film at least). It’s whole being there is convoluted in the first place. The ship has been floating in space for 60 odd years doing nothing so Morgan Freeman uses a beacon to call it down to do what now? He literally gains nothing from it other than risking the lives of his men. His actual plan for killing the Tet in no way involves that spaceship. The only reason it becomes significant is when that plan fails. Something he DID NOT plan for.
The reason it becomes significant is because contained on that ship are a number of stasis pods out of one of which comes Jack’s wife.
The Tet later takes an interest in the wife (obviously) and decides that Jack will be allowed inside if he brings her with him. It’s the only way to get the bomb inside the Tet after Jack forgets 166 is still alive. Jack’s wife is fully prepared to get in the pod because the Tet will know if she’s not in it. Only in a surprise twist at the end of the film it’s not her who gets out the pod but Morgan Freeman! Again, the Tet is dumb in this instance. Earlier in the film we see a drone visibly identify Jack’s DNA trail hours after its been left like it’s the world’s greatest bloodhound.
Yet somehow when inside the Tet one of the many spare drones just sitting around scratching its balls cannot scan the stasis pod and notice that the person inside is the wrong sex! Fooled by it being another woman? Passable. But it’s a dude! How did the Tet not notice that!?
Anyway that’s not the plot hole. Though it is mighty bad. The real plot hole comes from the fact that there are now two stasis pods. One with Morgan Freeman and one with the wife. After the Tet explodes, we see her wake up in a second pod in the idyllic little hideaway that Jack built. Only the thing is, there wasn’t a second stasis pod.
When the spaceship crashed Jack goes to investigate. He finds that most of the pods have been destroyed on impact but he does discover a few still in tact. 166 then shows up and shoots the lot of them with his exploda-cannons. Only by standing on top of the pod containing his wife does Jack stop 166 from killing her. Again, a moment of characterisation where it could have been made to look like 166 disobeyed an order just to protect Jack. But Jack only saves his wife and the pod she’s in. All the others have been destroyed. Which means there is no second pod for her to wake up inside of. PLOT-and-HOLE.
5. This film is unbelievably sexist.
There are three women in this film and the script writer(s) have no idea what to do with them.
1. The British Chick. To be fair, in most American films the token Brit is the smart one because no amount of suspension of disbelief can convince us that Americans are actually clever. And to be fair to Victoria she does fulfil this trope, she’s the brains of the operation, but where the film goes different to the others is by making her a complete slut. She’s barely been in the film five minutes or had any character development before
she strips butt naked in the middle of dinner and entices Jack to go nude swimming for some kinky skypool sex. At literally every moment Jack questions what is going on she offers him sex like Durex are on offer. At first you think she KNOWS what’s really going on and is intentionally hiding it from Jack because she knows that a man who has just been abandoned by his wife is easily sold on the idea of sex.
But then later you discover she’s just another clone like Jack and there are hundreds of her too. So really she just cares about Jack, wants him to be happy, and really wants to get off earth and go to Titan. All of which is perfectly understandable. She’s no villain! Which means she is then totally screwed over. Victoria No.49 gets turned into ash because Jack tells her he’s met his real wife and she’s trying to process what is an understandably confusing and upsetting event and doesn’t realise what is going on. Victoria No.52, who is the only other clone we meet in the film, then gets abandoned at the top of a sky tower with no way of getting down. She is left to starve to death! Why? Because her boyfriend gets one look, just one look at this…
2. The Wife. As hot as she may be, Jack’s real wife is downright weird. She discovers at the same time as Jack that he is a clone and she is understandably freaked. She then gets shot. Because apparently that’s the only technique Jack’s got from convincing the ladies to go back to his place, which is where he takes her to rather than to his base which has proper medical facilities. And once there he has a flash of conscience, a potentially brilliant moment of the film, in which he realises that he’s not her husband. He is just a copy. Her response?
She jumps him. In the French way.
And then, and then he dies. She wakes up in his little woodland hut and we discover she is pregnant. Wait, hold on a moment! She jumps out of her plot hole pod to discover that she’s not inside an alien but in the middle of nowhere. Rather than let her wake up with the other humans and, you know, live a normal life and help rebuild society she is abandoned on her own, sexed up and knocked up. In the middle of nowhere! She gives birth to a child alone and with no aid whatsoever – there is no convenient medical pod ala Prometheus. What exactly was Jack 49 thinking when he dumped her there? He literally imprisons her in a difficult to reach area.
The only reason she ever has human contact again is because of Jack 52. Three years later! And how does he find her? Because he had a hunch. A hunch! He had no idea the place existed other than thinking that Jack 49 would try and find it too. Aside from the fact that he knows what he’s looking for, like the rest of the humans he is basically travelling blind. And how, exactly, is the wife supposed to explain to her three year old daughter when Jack 52 does show up that that’s her Daddy, only not? In no way does her response suggest that this is any way awkward. “Oh look, hunny that’s your Daddy, sort of…” I mean how in the name of all mothering techniques do you explain to your daughter that her Daddy isn’t actually her Daddy but more of just a copy? Black Mirror happens to tell you exactly what that situation results in and it is in no way healthy. But hey she’s French, they roll with some weird shit.
Of course, it might sort of work right up until Jacks 1-48 and Jacks 52+ get a glimpse of her and show their faces. Hell, by that point the Tet is dead so they have nothing to do with their time but follow their creepy visions. Which further screws over Victorias 1-48 and 52+.
3. The other woman. She says little, does some stuff, does not get mentioned in the credits.
6. This film tries to be epic…
Let’s compare openings. In Prometheus we get some impressive expansive shots of a wasteland, there’s music, its impressive, there’s some big blue dude who melts, it’s impressive. We have no idea what’s going but maybe, just maybe did we just see the start of life on Earth? It sets up the film brilliantly and provides you, the viewer, a bunch of questions for the film to answer. Admittedly the pay off is not great, but it immerses you into the film. Oblivion has a similar opening, only it’s got Tom Cruise telling you exactly what is happening in no uncertain terms. And considering how dead his voice sounds this clearly post-Holmes.
True, everything he says then turns out to be a lie, but it’s kind of hard not to sit through the intro and think, “Wow, this film thinks I’m a dumb shit.”
But that’s not why this film fails to be epic. It wants to be epic scifi, it does all the things that are in epic scifi films because it thinks that an epic scifi film is a combination of parts and using those parts in a new combination will produce a new epic scifi film. It thinks that every plot twist in this film is like the moment in Empire Strikes Back when for the first time you discover that Vader is Luke’s father. It completely fails to realise that the reason that that one moment is so brilliant is because there was effectively two entire films just to set it up. Oblivion wants you to have that attachment the moment it throws its first plot twist, not realising that a great moment isn’t about the events of that moment but how you build up to that moment.
I may not be a great fiction writer, but it’s the policy I ascribe to. You write to build up a MOMENT. What’s between MOMENTS doesn’t have to be Shakespeare but it does need to set up that one MOMENT so that Shakespeare would read it and think “Thou hast dropped it like it is hotter than a summer’s day”. Oblivion fails to realise this. And it doesn’t need writing a 300,000 tome like Men of Fear to do it (any chance at self publicising). Seed does it in less than 13 minutes, partly because the story builds up rather than being presented to you in one turd sized lump in a 30sec intro monologue.
In fact, if Oblivion had been like Seed it would genuinely have been epic. In point of fact, that 13 minute film could have worked as the best prologue to Oblivion ever. Spoiler: It’s set on Titan, the very moon that all the humans on the Tet are supposed to be emigrating to in Oblivion. If they’d dumped the whole “the Tet is an alien” plot twist, the two could have melded into a brilliant story. The main character in Seed is a scout ascertaining if Titan can be colonised and his conclusion is “no” causing everyone to abandon the moon. Imagine the ramifications that would have had for the people waiting on the Tet if they were real. They’ve just discovered they’re only hope is dashed and they have to spend the rest of their existence on a cramped space station with no hope of rebuilding humanity. All of a sudden the memory wipes take on a whole new meaning. The Tet was never meant to be a permanent fixture, so in order to stop people from freaking out about everything the higher ups wipe their memory every few months and tell them that they just need a little more juice before the Tet is ready to go. Over and Over. Once Jack learns the truth he’ll be faced with the dilemma of leaving everyone up there or bringing some or all of them down to colonise his idyllic home away from home, potentially ruining it.
Now that would be a great film.
Instead, what we get is a film that tries to be a Stanley Kubrick film, only it forgets one important detail. The only person capable of making a Stanley Kubrick film is Stanley Kubrick. You see, the thing is when it comes to creating something there’s how we want it to be and there’s the point at which we say “fuck it, close enough”. It’s not quite what we wanted it to be but it’ll do and we don’t have the energy to put any more effort in to get it how we really want it. Kubrick had a mental condition. His mind was literally incapable of thinking “fuck it”. That man put insane detail not just into the MOMENTS, but the moments that are meant to build up the MOMENTS. Unless you have that mental condition there is no way you can recreate something on the same level as that man.
7. What the film really is
Speaking of recreation, that’s exactly what this film is. Or, I should say it’s an alternative. You see, when you get down to it, Oblivion is an alternative sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I say alternative because there is an actual sequel to 2001, 2010, which is book two of the Space Odyssey series but does not follow on from book one which is the basis of the first film. Instead it follows from the film which changes the plot slightly. Still following?
At any rate, for those of you who have only just discovered the internet and have therefore led a very, very sheltered life that could in no way include 2001, the film is about a space mission to investigate an object near Saturn where Titan happens to orbit… On board is a computer called HAL that basically runs everything for the two pilots. Only HAL starts to make mistakes. When the pilots want to shut down HAL to make repairs, HAL thinks they’re trying to kill him so he starts killing them instead. First he kills all the science team in stasis pods, just likes there’s a science team in stasis pods in Oblivion… Then he goes after the pilots. In the end, Bowman, as the only survivor, manages to switch off HAL and continues the mission. He reaches the object and well… then your mind and your ears explode a little bit. Basically Bowman becomes the Star Child, a very powerful entity hovering over Earth deciding what to do with it. 2010 tells us exactly what he did.
Oblivion is what happens when HAL manages to kill Bowman and becomes the Star Child thing instead.
The similarities are more than a little striking. In a flashback we see Jack piloting his spaceship toward an unidentified object. He has a bunch of scientists with him who are in the stasis pods. So both films have the same sort of technology. There’s only one other crew member awake, the British chick. They have limited contact with Earth. It is also set in 2017 which is not long after 2001. Considering Bowman Star Child arrived in 2010 it kind of makes sense that a computer being turned into a Star Child might take a little longer. That’s right, the Tet is HAL.
In 2001 what you see of HAL is his BIG RED EYE. In Oblivion what you see of the Tet is the BIG RED EYE. It also gives a motive to the Tet’s actions which is woefully lacking in the film. I mean the whole arriving at Earth for food is a seriously crap motive. Once you realise the Tet is HAL, the whole attack actually makes sense. It’s HAL taking revenge on the planet that tried to kill him. And as 2001 makes clear, HAL is losing his mind which then explains why literally none of its plans in Oblivion make sense because HAL has completely lost it by that point.
The only way for Oblivion to make any shred of sense whatsoever is if it is the alternative sequel to 2001. If it isn’t, then it’s just plain bollocks.
8. Plot Twist!
There is no 8.