Oblivion: Close but no cigar

Yesterday I went to see “Oblivion”, the last Tom Cruise movie [imdb], this is what I though about it.

“Oblivion”, the last movie featuring Tom Cruise, directed by Joseph Kosinski who also directed “Tron Legacy” in 2012 (not a good reference if you ask me), is a SciFi movie about a team of two humans technicians on a planet Earth that was ravaged by war after an alien invasion. “We won the war but we lost the planet” as they say.

The rest of humanity has emigrated on Jupiter’s moon, Titan, and Jack and Victoria are assigned to the maintenance of drones protecting energy rigs that convert sea water into energy cells. Rigs and drones are regularly attacked by the “scavs”, remnants of the alien army that invaded Earth. Jack is going to discover that there is more to that than what he has been told…

SPOILER ALERT!! Now you have been warned, if you haven’t seen that movie yet and read ahead you might learn more than you wish about the plot.

Frankly, despite I had guessed most of the plot with the trailer, I enjoyed the movie. The atmosphere is great, the images are fantastic and the soundtrack is gorgeous. It was a nice entertainment and I recommend it. The problem is that I am a hardcore SciFi fan and there are a number of “duh!?” moments in this movie. And while some of them hold the plot (which is bad), most of them are just there for unnecessary dramatisation (which is even more bad).

The Tet and the tech

The Tet is the orbital space station which is allegedly the control center for the operations on Earth. Jack will discover that it is not human, but it is actually the alien ship that invaded Earth and is home to an Artificial Intelligence whose goal is to go from planet to planet to suck up all energy.

  • The rigs: the rigs are huge “factories” which pump sea water and manufacture energy cells. Since the goal of the Tet is to get as much as energy as possible you would think that those rigs are energy-efficient? Well, then, you are wrong. Instead of floating on the water or anchoring on the sea bed, they float in the air, hovering above the sea. Given the size of those things it must take a lot of energy to just do that. But they also don’t use tubbing to pump the water into the rig, they somehow levitate it…
  • Communications: When the Tet is beyond the horizon all communications are lost. And when Jack goes into a canyon, communication is lost with Victoria too. Like this is an advanced alien AI but it doesn’t have any knowledge about satellite communication relay? Remarkably too, visual communication with the Tet is quite bad, it looks like they are using 1950’s analog television broadcast (in B&W) for their visual and audio but all the rest is digital and is perfectly working.
  • The chopper: Jack has a very nice chopper to wander around, but one has to ask how come such a nice piece of tech cannot withstand being struck by lightning whereas your common airplane does. It’s also a miracle that it can glide despite it doesn’t have wings. Well, not always, when struck by lightning it falls like a stone, when shot at, it glides.
  • The drones: Again, nice piece of tech. Automated drones, programmed to patrol and kill everything that moves. Heavily armed and armored, except for that little spot that if a skilled sniper can shoot will totally shut down the thing. Heartless killing machines that will blow away Victoria without thinking about it but will take it’s time to hover closer to Jack for the final blow, conveniently placing itself in the chopper’s line of fire so that Julia can kill it. They also cannot withstand a struck of lightning but unlike the chopper, which needed Jack to work hard to have it restart, they restart by themselves.

An effective team

So Jack and Victoria are a team, Jack is the technician and Victoria the communication officer. They are also a couple and allegedly the sole humans on the planet. We discover later that they are clones whose memories have been erased and that there are may be hundreds of them around the planet.

  • Memories: If those are clones, why erase their memories? Clones do not have memories of the original subject’s life nor can dream about it.
  • Invasion army: At one point, Morgan Freeman’s character explains that the Tet used an army of Jack’s clones to invade the planet. Those clones where hardly conscious of being humans and invading their own planet, which implies that the Tet has the necessary tech to brainwash/program them enough, so why let the other clones think they are humans and work for what’s left of humanity?
  • Reproduction: Jack and Victoria are a couple and they have sexual relations. You can assume that all the couples of clones around the planet do the same. Let’s say it relieves the tensions. In such circumstances (and since they are engineered clones) you would think that the Tet made sure they cannot reproduce, and they don’t. However, Jack will sleep one time with Julia and BINGO!
  • Working hours: One of the problem the team faces is that the scavs attack the rigs and drones at night, when they are fucking sleeping. Damn, they must have a powerful union to forbid night shifts. Especially since there is an almost infinite supply of Jacks and Victorias. Why don’t they work in three eight-hour shifts?

Julia and the Odyssey

So Julia is Jack’s wife (well, Original Jack’s) she was on the Odyssey with Original Jack and Original Victoria. The Odyssey’s mission was to investigate the object approaching Earth which happens to be the Tet. The crew was composed of an undefined number of members in hypersleep (6 at least) plus Jack and Victoria who where piloting the ship.

  • Hypersleep: Why members of the crew are in hypersleep whereas it seems that the Odyssey and the Tet are really close to Earth. To need hypersleep you would imagine that they had to make a very long journey before meeting with the Tet. In that case there would be a lag in communications with ground control, which is not the case. And if the goal of the mission is to investigate the Tet, and the crew is here to do that, then why are they still in hypersleep so close to the subject of their investigation? And why so many crew members in the first place? I mean, you have to send people investigating an alien object, are you going to send as many people as possible or as few as required? You know, just to limit casualties in case those are flesh-eating aliens. Especially if most of them are going to just sleep. Or may be it was an offering, like “you can eat those but please don’t ransack the planet”.
  • Julia is stupid: Julia has been in hypersleep for 60 years, doesn’t know anything about the invasion, she wakes up, see her husband Jack with another woman and doesn’t say or do anything. And she won’t explain what was her mission, arguing it’s a secret, despite the fact that Jack and Victoria where also part of the mission.
  • Julia is really fertile: She just had sex once after being in hypersleep for 60 years, got shot in the belly, but still get pregnant from her husband’s clone (who should be infertile).
  • Julia is a Slut: She knows none of the Jacks are the original, the Original Jack likely died a few minutes after entering the Tet with the Odyssey, but she will gladly take any of the Jacks (at least 51) remaining on Earth after the Tet exploded, as her husband/lover. 2077, polyandry is “à la mode” at last…
  • Flight recorder: Just a small one but still. How come the Odyssey’s flight recorder was in the sleep compartment and how come it continued recording what was said in the command module after separation? Doesn’t the command module have it’s own flight recorder?
  • Odyssey’s crash site: Seriously? What’s that crater?

The resistance

What’s actually left of humanity, led by Morgan Freeman. They are stealing energy cells from the drones to make bombs to destroy the rigs and stop the ransacking of the planet. They pass for scavs at the eyes of Jack mostly because of the way they dress.

  • Attire: Arguably, they dress like that, explains Freeman, to look as less human as possible because the drones are programmed to kill everything human (except Jack and Victoria). If this was true then why Jack is so worried about the dog being killed by the drone? And why the drone is so effective at saving Jack when they trap him in the library?
  • The Odyssey: How do they know about the Odyssey? Julia said it was a secret thing so how come those guys know about it? May be Morgan Freeman was POTUS (again) so he knew about it, that would explain a lot. Except everyone knows Morgan Freeman would rather die with the rest of humanity than hide in a bunker, or an ark.

What about you? Did you see the movie? What did you think about it?

11 thoughts on “Oblivion: Close but no cigar

  1. Christine Cavalier

    Thanks for running this down for me. My husband and I are huge sci fi fans but we hate Tom Cruise as a person. So swallowing that hate hard would only happen for an outstanding movie. This movie looked dumb, despite Morgan Freeman (who, as a person, isn’t all that great either, but I digress). Predictably, it has plot holes the size of Farpoint Station. Thanks for saving me the “meh” of wondering about whether or not to rent it.

    Reply
  2. Marc M

    I liked the movie especially the vibrant energy of the visuals and music, both of which stick with me long after the credits are over. I do actually appreciate your overview here of plot holes, but I think it rises above its flaws to be quite enjoyable, even if that is perhaps more on an aesthetic level than a narrative level.

    Reply
    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      Like I said, I actually liked it because of the visuals and music and I recommend it, it’s just that at several moments I have been taken out of the magic by a resounding “WTF?” in my head. The “wiped memory” story (from the trailer it was already obvious they were clones working for the enemy), the communication issues, the lightning that disables the chopper, the size of the crater when the Odyssey crashes and near the end when the Odyssey is so close to the Tet and everything seem wrong (seriously this part is really bad). Those are the weirdest moments in the movie.

      Reply
  3. Alex

    Biggest question I have, that may have been answered in the movie; Why did the Tet need the humans at all? It was able to produce it’s own drones (as shown when they were inside Tet), so why the need for repairs? Or if they did need repairs, why couldn’t it invent a machine to do so? Perhaps humans were easier to work with and required less energy?

    Reply
    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      I doubt humans are easier to work with and require less energy (need to wipe their memory, work only eight hours a day, need housing, food), and even if that was the case then why not use humans to protect the rigs instead of drones? After all, the Tet used an army of Jakes to invade the Earth, where are they? Why they don’t chase and kill the rest of the humans?
      The only argument I could find reasonable for using humans to maintain the drones (and not brainless humans like the army of Jakes was probably) is the one about creativity. In an hostile environment, with limited resources, Jake needs to be inventive to accomplish his mission. But then again, the environment doesn’t seem so hostile and the resources don’t seem so limited and most of the time he just flips parts to repair the drones.
      May be humans are easier to produce than drones (but where does the food come from?)

      Reply
  4. Bill

    I love the movie. Very poetic, beautiful, and thought provoking…

    On your “hypersleep” question/statement, my input is this: the original Odyssey mission was to investigate Titan… then, their mission changed to focus on the Tet. So, perhaps hypersleep would have been necessary.

    On the flight recorder… recording things after the sleep pod is ejected….I say “lol”

    Reply
  5. Frank Bitterhof

    I agree that some “duh” moments were confusing watching the film only once, but necessary to contribute to the unexpected twist of the story. The second time I watched it these were far less confusing and the Julia’s strange acting the first time, made perfect sense after we had learned what it was all about the first time.

    In a manner of speaking, you get two films for the price of one (what a bargain during this age of home video). I’m still excited about this great film Joseph Kosinski made here.

    I would like to elaborate on the “duh” moments you mentioned:

    Hydro-rigs: Actually, these were the first hint that something was wrong. What do we have? In 2017 we are capable of building a long-range interplanetary spacecraft. But following the obvious extinction event that year mankind is suddenly capable of mastering anti-gravity technology, builds a huge orbital station and is ready to colonize a far moon near Saturn? WTF?
    I thought that was bad sci-fi writing but it turned actually out to be alien technology extracting deuterium from seawater for nuclear fusion applications.

    Communications: Either Jack or Vika should have been suspicious about the aforementioned but wait, their memories had been wiped for security reasons (possibly not to reveal how mankind had acquired these skills). To have communication blackouts and poor transmission quality appealed to both of them (subconsciously only aware of state-of-the-art technology from 2017) and ensured both wouldn’t wonder too much.

    Ligthning strikes: You are right, those were mostly for dramatic purposes but didn’t hurt the story (both vehicles recovered in time). The drones didn’t know Vika, so she was a target the moment any drone spotted her. On the other hand, Jack was still “friends” with the drones, maybe that explained the hesitation of the drone “at home”?

    Memories: We don’t know whether the memories of the person that is cloned are transferred over to the clone or not. Kosinski said “yes” and I have no factual evidence to prove the opposite,

    Invasion army: Maybe Sally realized after experience with the invasion army that not to brainwash the clones too much would yield better results in terms of using imagination to repair downed frones?

    Reproduction: Only Vika was rendered sterile or she used contraception not to become pregnant (couldn’t imagine her character being a mother…).

    Working hours: Unless I’m mistaken the drones also operated at nighttime but that attack on the hydro-rig seemed to be a first and new strategy of the “scavs”. And it was apparently safer for Jack to conduct patrol and drone repair during daytime with better visibility.

    Julia is stupid: No, she isn’t. She wakes up after 60 years and finds herself in an impossible situation, where her crew members don’t remember her, still look as old as the day she saw these last, wear clothing that’s not NASA and seem to be a couple in a strange place. She tries to figure out what happened here and how she shall proceed with the strange situation.

    Julia is a Slut: No, she isn’t. For all she (first) knows Jack 49 is the original. I would find it difficult to make a moral assessment here. Kris Kelvin in SOLARIS (1972) did the same thing with the obvious reproductions of his wife Hari.

    Flight recorder: I agree, this one is a little odd. It also appears that Jack was the only one to ever learn what had happened during the Odyssey Mission. Surely, the survivors on Earth would have also liked to know what happened up there.

    Attire: I presume Jack has seen the drones kill other animals for “his” protection. Indeed, by the point in time OBLIVION takes place the stealth protection of the survivors only seems to work when they don’t move at all.

    The Odyssey: It seemed to me that the survivors just learned recently about the Odyssey to bring her down and get their hands on the spacecraft’s reactor. And IMHO, there was nothing wrong with the Morgan Freeman character going (or being) “underground” as the survivors needed a charismatic leader to carry on, and I can hardly think of better leader types like Morgan Freeman…;-)

    Hope I was able to remove the “duh” from some scenes of the film.

    Reply
    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      Hi Frank, thanks for your comment. Very interesting bits but you missed my point in a few occasions :)

      I can see how you can find an explanation for something strange when you see the movie for the second time but mostly you’re just making up explanations for things that should be obvious or not there at all. And remember, I had guessed most of the plot just watching the trailer (which is bad enough) so really there was little surprise for me.

      The Julia thing still makes no sense to me, on the contrary, she wakes up after 60 years (not knowing this is 60 years after) there’s no way she is not confused after that and her natural reaction would be to ask about the mission and at least show some emotion to see her husband.

      Hidro-rigs: Actually, 60 years later I can fathom the humans having learned some stuff, war is a good progress driver and they could have copied alien technology. But the problem is not here, if you want to collect as much as energy as possible then you make sure the process of collecting is as efficient as possible (especially when you’re an AI).

      Communications: State of the art 2013 technology knows already everything there is to know about satellite communication relay and digital/color video feed.

      Ligthning strikes & drones: The drone kills Vika because it’s been ordered to and it’s been ordered to kill Jack too. It’s a machine, thinking it’s “friend” with Jack is preposterous. I can understand when a live being walk down to its victim for the final shot but a machine? It should have shot him immediately without hesitation. That’s useless dramatisation, like the lightning strikes.

      Cloning: Would depend on the cloning process. A replication process (àla teleportation-gone-wrong kind) would preserve memories. A biological cloning process or 3D-printing-like process wouldn’t retain memories. And at the end we can see it’s of the latter kind, with “growing pods” full of Jacks and Vika. Any SciFi fan knows that, including Kosinski ;)

      Invasion army: Yes, that’s the only explanation I can find but it’s a thin one.

      Julia is stupid: Like I said earlier, the moment she wakes up she doesn’t know 60 years have passed and the first people she sees are her husband and a friend. Only thing I would be ready to swallow is that after 60 years she somehow lost her memory, gradually recovers it while at the same time noticing something is wrong. But this is not what seems to happen.

      Julia is a Slut: You’re right about Jack 49, not about the one at the end of the movie. At this moment she knows they were all clones.

      The “Morgan Freeman would rather die with the rest of humanity than hide in a bunker, or an ark.” statement was a joke, referencing “Deep Impact” and “2012” (tho it was Dany Glover in “2012”, I guess Freeman was not free or too expensive).

      For the other points you mention then fair enough, it is alright to come up with a story after-the-facts, but unfortunately no explanation can remove the “duh!?” moments, it’s too late because they already happened and tarnished part of the experience. Don’t forget I actually liked the movie for its other qualities just not for its SciFi-grade accuracy or its plot consistency. I got pulled out of the movie by those issues but brought back in quickly enough by the action, photo and score. You actually made me want to see it again, which is very nice, may be I will comment there again after that ;)

      Reply
  6. Frank Bitterhof

    Hi Claude, thanks for taking the time to reply back, I appreciate it. I hope you don’t mind that I’d still like to comment on some issues.

    Julia’s awakening: One of the very first things she is being told, is that she is the only surviving member of “her” crew…while two other members of her crew are the ones telling her that.

    From that moment on she knows that something is really wrong and acts smart: Not to say a thing but instead listen to everything the others tell her to figure out where she is and what she missed during these 60 years.

    Julia is a slut: When she kisses Jack 49 on the Empire State Building she doesn’t know yet that there are other Jacks. That’s something she realizes when she sees Jack 49 opposite Jack 52.
    Every romantic action following this scene might be debatable but it’s an interesting “What if” scenario. To call her a “slut” for spending the night with the perfect copy of her (deceased) husband, is a little like “Damn if you do and damn if you don’t”, isn’t it?

    Memories / Cloning: I see your point and stand corrected. But apparently these clones weren’t brought up and educated by “Mom Sally” (like Kurt Russell in SOLDIER) but received the original Jack’s memory as a ready-to-go implant like the replicants in BLADE RUNNER including the side effects of memories. Like I said, that may have proven more effective during these 60 years than those original (and probably mindless) Jack clone automatons the Tet send down to kill the remaining survivors.

    Reply
    1. Claude Vedovini Post author

      Hi Frank,

      I watch the movie again after your comment :)

      I somewhat agree with you on the fact that when she wakes up from hyper-sleep she can tell something is wrong and then play it safe. Especially since Jack and Vika show immediately they don’t know her.

      About Julia being a bit “easy” I was referring to Jack 52. At the end of the movie she knows he is not her husband and he is not her child’s father either, yet you can see in her eyes what’s going to happen. Tho, about Jack 49, she should know it’s not him, it’s 60 years later and the guy didn’t age.

      Well, Kurt Russel is not a clone in “Soldier” just a brainwashed kid. The memory implant à la “Blade Runner” wouldn’t make a lot of sense either, why implant memories to have them removed afterwards? Or may be just selectively remove some in order to keep others? Looks like a lot of trouble to me.

      I will come back on the drone and the fact the humans only work during the day. You mentioned the attack on the rig was a first, you are right, but Sally mentioned that the Scavs regularly attack the drones at night to harvest cells. A lot of things are wrong here because I suspect the main reason for Jack not to go out at night is because they cannot communicate with the Tet. And the main reason for Jack to be there in the first place is that little, but very convenient, weakness of those drones. At the end we just face the technological incoherences that actually allow the rest of the plot.

      Reply

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