In 2011, Ben Child wrote in The Guardian, “In an industry where every third movie is a sequel, prequel or remake, Kosinski’s project is a rare original, big-budget science-fiction project.” Two years later Peter Bradshaw, writing in the same newspaper, called Oblivion “fantastically derivative sci-fi.” So what went wrong?
Good movies have memorable moments. They present us with scenes that we have not watched before or ideas we have not considered. These moments often have no relation to the budget of the movie. They are a combination of the talent of the screenwriter and the director and the actors who bring a reality to their dreams.
They can be small moments like the severed ear lying in the grass of Blue Velvet. Or the plastic bag floating in the breeze of American Beauty. They can be clever stories like those of The Sixth Sense and Planet of the Apes. They can be jaw dropping moments brought to us by innovative special effects: The Matrix, Lord of the Rings and Avatar. Or they can be spell-binding dialogue: Christopher Walken in True Romance, Roy Batty’s dying speech in Bladerunner. These moments are to be found in every movie you enjoy. Some are so memorable that they will stay with you forever.
Oblivion has none of these.
Why Ben Child thought Oblivion was going to be rare or original is a mystery. He was right about one thing; it does have a big budget, maybe a $100 million dollars. Looking at the figures on Box Office Mojo, it will probably take some time to recoup.
The only thing memorable about Oblivion is the way it borrows scenes and ideas from so many other sci-fi films. It might well become the scifi equivalent of the Withnail and I drinking game. Take a shot every time you spot something you saw in another movie. Don’t the drones remind of you Phil Tippett’s work in Robocop? Is that the landspeeder race from Star Wars? Whoa we just passed the Statue of Liberty from Planet of the Apes. A touch of 2001 here and a lot of Moon there. Let’s finish with the destruction of the Death Star.
The movie looks good. Director Joseph Kosinski’s background is in special effects and CGI. The sparse cast, it seems like the first hour features only three actors and one of them is only ever seen on a monitor, do what they can with unremarkable dialogue filled with exposition. Oblivion isn’t unwatchable. But it is unsurprising.