My Thoughts on Oblivion (Oh My God, It’s Full of Crap!)

Maybe it’s seen as silly to hold on to 2001: A Space Odyssey as a high water mark for an SF movie these days, but the degree of ignorance, stupidity, and shallowness on display in Oblivion provokes such rage in my that I can’t help but compare.

Be warned: here there be “spoilers” though, frankly, nothing I could do or say would spoil the movie more than the people who made it already have. But I’ll but a cut up so you need to click through to see why the film is moronic.

Also, curse words. Because I am that disgusted. If curse words offend you, skip this post and just trust me, you don’t need to go and spend money to be intellectually offended to the degree this film will do.

It’s just that it was heartbreaking seeing this movie, because for that kind of budget, and with that cast, I know people who could make an amazing SF film. A mindblowing one. Instead, that money and that cast’s time was taken up making…

Garbage.

Okay. Wait. I should caveat that I don’t like Adam Roberts’ observation in The History of Science Fiction that cinematic SF is about spectacle where written SF is about, well, more than that. (Science, tech, human nature, stuff.)

I don’t contest the claim, I think it’s accurate; but I dislike the neutrality of it, since in my opinion this is why most cinematic SF is so bloody stupid and so relentlessly disappointing.

So I wasn’t expecting much. Really, I wasn’t.

But this film insulted me. On many, many levels.

There’s the basic level of repeating cliches from every damned SF movie ever made–in the mode of let’s include every cliche we can, and hell, let’s throw in the Jetsons’ kitchen sink. Because you know, the ending of Independence Day is not really very good. Because clones are not that particularly interesting–at least not when they’re treated the same way everyone else has treated them. Because lovely CGI doesn’t make it believable that giant machines hovering over the ocean could actually suck up all the water on the face of the Earth. No, no, they really couldn’t. Not machines of the size on screen. (Unless they’re built like the Tardis, which, fuck off.)

Then there’s the fact that the people who made the decisions about what to put in this film were ignorant old white fuckers. Men, almost certainly–because the female characters are all Man Jewelry–yes, yes they are, because you know they could have been incredibly badass, except… except… oh, wait, there’s not a fucking reason in the world not to make them badass.

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Don’t give me that dubious look, Tom. Even if the female characters were badass, I’m sure directors could still find a use for you in their movies…

Because people in their 30s or early 40s in 2017–no more than people in their 30s and early 40s today–are not going to play 1970s vinyl albums when they get all nostalgic about the ruined earth. They’re not going to be all ga-ga about the music that some lame, white-haired old film producer “likes for this scene” because they’re not from the past, which is the fucking point of futuristic narratives, do you hear me now?

And because you know, the last time a couple has sex is not magically guaranteed to result in pregnancy. That’s only how it works in Hollywood, where apparently people cannot resist the urge to throw in one more cheap stereotype. And also, it’s perfectly okay to make a character disappear without any explanation, and then reappear, and like, totally surprise people because they forgot about him, except that no, they didn’t. They sat there going, “Where’d the clone go? What the fuck’s the deal with that?” and then later sat there going, “They’re not going to bring the clone back, are they? Oh, Christ, no…” but oh yes they did, and guess  what, they were nice enough to even do a closeup on the patch on his suit so you know it’s the same clone who disappeared and you forgot about him because you, dear member of the target audience for Oblivion, are obviously a blithering fucking moron. That is, after all, their assumption.

And, well, having paid to see the movie, I do feel a bit like a blithering fucking moron, so I suppose they’re right.

(The emotional equivalent of all of the above would be people getting married because on first sight they suspect their sex bits might match nicely… oh, wait, having seen Hollywood’s idea of a romantic comedy… argh, damn it, I guess Hollywood treats us like morons all around!)

And then there’s the stunning scientific ignorance.

Let me put it this way: any group of aliens dumb enough to invade the Earth for energy would have to be too fucking stupid to ever get off their homeworld to begin with. Hell, we’re so stupid that we’re likely to extinct ourselves and but we’re bright enough to realize that, hey, if you want energy? A rocky planet that’s covered in water with an iron core is probably a dumbass place to look. Don’t bother wiping out the native species. Do not invade, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Go to the sun. Build a Dyson Sphere. Better yet, do some stellar engineering, extract what you want and shrink the sun down so it’s portable and then take it and go on your merry way. Humanity, lacking anything like a serious space program, will be left helplessly sitting on the surface of the Earth, watching you do it in abject, pathetic terror.

And by the way, why would you go traveling from world to world if you wanted energy? I can’t do the calculations myuself but I don’t need to, to know that the amount of energy needed to get from one Earth-like world to another, even using the most efficient system of travel, would far outstrip what you could get from the Earth itself; it’s not energy efficient to wander around doing this, simply put. (And remember, there’s no obvious effort to mine the moon of energy: it’s not like they set up a Dyson sphere, because apparently our aliens have never read an SF book and don’t know how to go about ravaging solar systems for energy… even though that’s their fucking hobby.)

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And if you want water, you don’t install thousands of water-vacuums over the oceans, like in the image above. (Let’s leave alone what they would actually do with the water.) You go to (almost certainly uninhabited, no muss and no fuss) Europa and suck all that water out. Or if you really want Earth’s water (though why would you) and you are married to the idea of not just blasting the Earth apart and cherry-picking the water from the wreckage, maybe you maybe do something to take out the magnetosphere (remove the iron core from the Earth, say) and then take out the atmosphere so that the water bleeds off.  Like what they think happened to Mars (except you’re doing it artificially to speed up the timescale).

Of course, if you do that–if you do it scientifically–your narrative can’t involve Tom Cruise running around on the surface of the Earth with no life-support suit, the wind blowing through his still-thick-and-shiny-hair; you can’t have a bunch of humans hiding out and fighting for their survival. You can’t shoehorn in roles for Morgan Freeman and “that Kingslayer guy” (you just know that’s what the producer said in the meeting where he was selected for the part) because guess what? Unless the aliens are the galactic version of the Beverly fucking Hillbillies, humanity wouldn’t survive the first minute of an alien invasion. Sorry, but it’s true: the scale of technology and of energy necessary to get from one  solar system to another, would pretty much necessitate making sure you could annihilate whoever you’re attacking in a minute or two. If you can’t, it’s just not worth it.

And you know, if I know this, you can be damned sure that an astronaut would know this. Maybe not the hip cool flyboy captain (which, of course, is male, right?) but at least one of the other astronauts must have cracked an astronomy textbook once in her life, right? Or like, been interested in science? Even a little? Like, as much as I am?

(Yeah, yeah, I know; they got brainwiped. But nowhere is it indicated that the aliens stupefied them, and one would have to be ignorant or stupid to buy the aliens’ cover story.)

I get it that the Earth is special to us. Obviously so. But in SF movies, the Earth is almost never special to aliens for reasons that make any sense from an alien point of view.

Which is also to note that, of all alien films that come to mind, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, for all that it is cheesy and kiddie and whatever (flying bicycles?) was the most rational and logical when it comes to reasons for aliens to come to Earth.

You heard me right: E.T. made more sense than Oblivion on a logical, scientific level. Seriously: botanists in search of new neato specimens of life not available elsewhere? And they can levitate bicycles and stuff. Bingo! That makes fucking sense. (And a housemate of my pointed out that Cocoon similarly features aliens who came here to study the Earth; of course, that smells of the whole alien-angel thing from the UFO literature, and there is some silliness about Atlantis, but at least the aliens came to the Earth to study, and later to rescue their fellow aliens left behind–which is a sensible motivation for them to come here. Resource harvesting is not one.)

Anyway, I saw the movie in a cinema in Ho Chi Minh City, where they charge about what a movie like this is really worth paying to see: $4. For those who are paying W12,000 or twelve bucks or more, all I can say is: you deserve your money back.

Oh, but since I always try to find something positive to say: the design for the interior and exterior surfaces of the Tet (the film’s Big Dumb Object) were nicely done: they look like iron that’s been in space, meteorite iron I mean. Like this:

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It was more regularized than the genuine iron from space, but it did suggest an appearance vaguely like this, and that was kinda cool.

The rest of the film was basically rubbish, though.

10 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Oblivion (Oh My God, It’s Full of Crap!)

  1. Funny, I hated Oblivion, too, but the things that set me off seem to have been really different than what bothered you. For example, I hated that this advanced, intergalactic race only seemed to have these silly little orb/drone things for security. And I hated that the human resistance, when confronted by 6-feet-wide security drones, never thought to build their secret hideaways with 5-foot doors. Why do anything that might impede the progress of the only attack device your enemy has?

    But, yeah, the Independence Day ending was incredibly annoying, too.

    Clearly Joe Kosinski is an art designer who doesn’t have the slightest idea how to plot. It was basically the same movie as Tron, but in white tones instead of black.

    1. Noah,

      Yeah, those aren’t crazy objections, but to get to them one has to take for granted that it isn’t nonsensical to invade the Earth for resources. That premise is a nonstarter for me… so it’s a bit like objecting to, I don’t know, the weaponry in a film about the Canadian army invading China or something.

      (I can argue for the shitty drone tech: one uses the least complex tech necessary to get the job done. Not that the aliens in Oblivion have common sense, but it is a commonsensical approach to tech. I’d expect the aliens to use more, smaller drones.)

      The objection about the hideaway door sizes, though, makes sense.

      And yeah, Kosinski is an art designer who doesn’t know how to plot… and, I’d add, isn’t really interested in any form of SF but cinematic SF. Which is to say, he isn’t really interested in intelligent SF. (But that is true of practically all SF filmmakers, so…)

      1. What’s fascinating (and infuriating) is how Tom Cruise talks about wanting to do this movie purely in terms of story. It’s like everyone in Hollywood knows at some level what makes a good movie, but is completely lacking in the desire to do those things.

        Anyhow, there’s a lot I’m prepared to overlook in mainstream sci-fi movies if the execution is done well enough. But the execution was terrible, too. Like with Alien, I don’t complain about gravity on the spaceship because the rest of the film is so well done.

        As for comparisons, I would say Oblivion is more like imagining if China invaded Mongolia for its ports.

        Btw, watching a film with a bad-guy spaceship called “Tet” while in Vietnam must have been a little amusing.

        1. Well, Tom Cruise also has a poor enough grasp of science fiction to have joined a religion where the core, secret teachings are, no qualifications, bad pulp SF written by a man who was, explicitly, a pulp SF writer. So…

          I too can overlook a lot too, and if the movie assumes some kind of artificial gravity, I can roll with it, especially if the film is well-done otherwise. (It’s when they go to the lengths to simulate zero-g or include a side-comment about their artificial gravity and then make it work wrong that I get annoyed. It’s a bit like having a plot point based on the fact that 2+2=5.)

          And yeah, your analogy between Oblivion and China invading Mongolia for its ports is a great one.

          And yeah, the Tet-in-Vietnam thing amused me, though I assumed it was short for Tetrahedron… It was still funny, though.

  2. Nice review. I agree with your criticisms. I also wonder why the aliens bothered to keep Tom Cruise and co alive to unwittingly do their bidding. Wouldn’t it be easier to build maintenance robots or simply design better drones which don’t break down every ten minutes. This was the first movie I’ve ever walked out of and I’ve seen Prometheus.

    1. Also a good criticism. Designing better drones especially sounds like a good idea; one wishes that the aliensd had kept Cruise & co alive because they wanted to understand the humans remaining on Earth, just in case. But that’s never quite suggested, IIRC.

  3. im agreed with everything all you just said. i feel ripped off and i just rented. good thing i spent only 2 dollars on it!
    i must add to it the thing pissed me off the most was the music it was like trying to give it some sort of sublime significance or whatever they try to accomplish was terrible corny specially whe tom cruise narrated the story.
    i think would be better without that music. or, hear me out here, for a trash movie you get trash soundtrack!

    1. Clau,

      Well, I didn’t spend much more than you on it: the cinemas in Saigon are blessedly cheap! But yeah, it was a really disappointing film. One wishes they’d greenlight films with huge budgets that are written for audiences with more than grade school level science educations…

      Funnily enough, I don’t remember the soundtrack all that much!

  4. Well the biggest dumbest thing is simply, how the aliens took Tom cruise out of the spaceship to clone it, and let the others passengers alive? I hope that they thought to close the door of the ship after leaving.. For a race that wants to annihilate the mankind, doing so much work to keep the other members of the crew alive is very sweet. And not to forget that the only survivor of the crash was his..wife !! Maybe the kids and the pet were in the spaceship including granny.
    I guess that before going in deep questioning about what are the more scientific odds of the movie, I think that the basic common sense would even be more appropriate…

    1. Hi Riel,

      It’s been so long I (quite thankfully) don’t even remember the movie anymore, but yes, I do remember that the film was utterly dumb in pretty much all respects except visual design.

      In my defense, I didn’t start with the science, though I’ll note that I think in a science fiction movie, the big picture story shouldn’t be completely idiotic. Aliens wandering across the galaxy in search of energy is a stupid idea for an SF film, unless you have some low-energy FTL tech available to them. (As Noah Body says in the comments above, it’s “like imagining if China invaded Mongolia for its ports.” I tend to be offended much more big big picture stupidity than specific plot problems, though I know that’s not necessarily how everyone feels.

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