Some of the many sci-fi films that Oblivion borrows from.

It’s difficult to review a movie like Oblivion. The film is such a wide-ranging pastiche of existing science-fiction movies that you spend most of your time thinking not about what’s actually in the film, nor about what any of it might “mean”, but of all the other movies that this movie reminds you of.

So, here are the movies that came to my mind during or immediately after my first viewing of Oblivion. Maybe, if I see the film a second time, I will find all the inter-textual references less distracting and will be able to focus on the movie for its own sake. Oh, and be warned: there are lots and lots of spoilers below.

Seriously. I’m going to talk about everything. So don’t say I didn’t warn you!

First, if you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the movie has elements of WALL-E, inasmuch as it involves a guy who does clean-up of some sort on an abandoned Earth, until one day a woman falls from the sky. (The black-and-white robot designs are very reminiscent of that film, too.)

In the opening minutes of the film, I found myself thinking of two other films, too — both of which, interestingly, were directed by Paul Verhoeven:

Total Recall: because the main character is living with a woman and sleeping with her and going about his daily routine, yet he has dreams (memories?) of another woman, and he yearns for something a little different in life — as opposed to his partner, who wants him to stick to the routine and be content with it (and along the way, she uses the allure of sex to keep him content with the routine). (One thing I like about Oblivion, though, is that the woman in this case — Victoria, played with interesting subtlety by British actress Andrea Riseborough — is not in on the conspiracy, but clearly loves the Tom Cruise character for her own reasons, and is committed to the routine for her own reasons.)

RoboCop: because the drones repaired by our protagonist have a tendency to whip out their giant guns whenever they scan his face to make sure that he’s okay. I kept waiting for one of them to malfunction in an ED-209 kind of way (“You have fifteen seconds to comply!”). But also: later on, the protagonist tells one of his female companions something like, “I’m not that guy, but I can remember certain things,” which to me had echoes of RoboCop telling Officer Lewis, “I can’t feel him, but I remember him”.

Then, in a more explicitly spoiler-ish vein, there are other films that might have occurred to you if you’ve seen the trailers, but it turns out Oblivion has more in common with those films than the trailers let on:

The Matrix: a group of suspicious-looking characters captures the protagonist, and the black, sunglasses-wearing leader of this group tells the protagonist that it’s time to learn “the truth”. But also: the vast array of cloning tanks, and the fact that the nemesis is an artificial entity intent on consuming our energy.

Tron Legacy: the production design is very reminiscent of director Joseph Kosinski’s last film, of course, and so is the music — parts of which I love, though at times, it seems more like sonic wallpaper and less like something that comments on the action. But also: our protagonists have had their memories erased so that they, the protagonists, can be used against their own people, and the movie climaxes with the death of a “creator” in a suicide attack (though it was the creator who committed the “suicide” in Tron Legacy, and it is the creation who does so here).

And then there are the films that I can’t even mention — not even their titles — without getting into spoiler territory. But since you’ve read this far:

Moon: for obvious reasons, if you’ve seen the film.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: because that film, too, climaxed with a reunited couple — one of them authentic, the other a simulacrum — opting to save the Earth by merging with a mechanical alien threat. Except that where the merger in ST:TMP is creative, or even procreative, the merger in Oblivion takes the form of a destructive explosion. (Admittedly, Oblivion throws one other last-minute wrinkle into the merger which makes this an even more inexact parallel, but hey.)

Star Trek: Nemesis: because that film, too, featured a character who committed suicide in the heart of an alien ship to save the Earth, and then concluded by suggesting that the character might live on in a clone of sorts who may or may not have his memories. (By the way, if the Tom Cruises we see here are numbered 49 and 52, shouldn’t there be lots of other Tom Cruises out there, too? And what about poor Victoria 52, who is presumably still alive but has since been abandoned by Tom Cruise 52? And come to think of it, what will happen to all those other Victorias and Tom Cruises when they witness the destruction of the alien ship in the sky, which they had been trained to think of as their link to other humans?)

Planet of the Apes: because of the so-called “radiation zone”, and because of the spacecraft with the suspended-animation chambers. (The glimpses we get of post-apocalyptic New York in Oblivion are also reminiscent of that film, though of course they also call to mind lots of other disaster and post-apocalyptic movies, such as A.I. Artificial Intelligence and The Day after Tomorrow, etc., etc.)

Eagle Eye: because of the guiding female voice that that turns out to belong not to an actual woman, but to an evil artificial intelligence.

And just to make things even crazier, this is the third film with Olga Kurylenko that I have seen in the past week. And like To the Wonder, it features her as a woman married to a guy who has something going on with another woman. And like Seven Psychopaths, it shows her getting shot in the stomach — and in that film, she was shot by Sam Rockwell, who starred in Moon!

It’s all connected, I tell you. All connected.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • D

    I didn’t even consciously think of Star Trek TMP, but I felt it’s influence if that makes sense. It’s one of my favorite movies. You’re absolutely right in your comment but there was no need for an exception. The climax IS the actual decision to merge. Sure, what actually happens is different and, in actuality, more like the Mass Effect video game trilogy which was very popular in the last 5 years. I would argue the climax of the film is the moment those characters make the decision and everything that follows is the obligatory explosion and epilogue that all blockbusters need. While the ruse aspect comes from Eagle Eye, the evil AI as a woman on a video screen is a direct relation to Terminator: Salvation’s Skynet. An evil AI tetrahedron full of AI machines is like Star Trek’s borg. The Matrix Revolutions has the last band of humans being assaulted by the sentinels/drones and the general’s last heroic stand firing dual machine guns. I loved your article especially because it referenced 2 Star Trek movies that only real fans will even remember.

  • http://www.gmail.com poster boy

    You forgot the most obvious one … 2001 : SPace Odessy .. the AI Red Eye

  • Rob

    The ending was similar to the space scene, with Iron Man, in the Avengers.

    • dudetski

      What are you? 6?

      • Rob

        No I’m not, you butt-hurt loser!

  • Junior May

    Holy crap. I just posted this on facebook about how this movie remind me of Eagle Eye, Total Recall, Matrix, and Planet of the Apes. What movie you also forgot is this totally reminded me about Independence day with the ending and nuke. I was having some major deja vu moments with this movie. It was just too predictable and just took the clips off other movies. It was great to google and see someone like myself actually write an article about this film.

    Come to think of it. You are right about the Wall-e reference. Good job.

  • dudetski

    The YouTube generation wholly missed the fact that thiscsci fi movie has a lot more parallels with real sci fi NOVELS then actual movies parading around as sci fi. Reading every once in a while wont kill ya. Wimpershnappers

  • TopperHarley

    Independence Day, The Island, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Mad Max.

  • Guest

    Independence Day, Pandorum, The Island, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Mad Max, Star Wars (drones shot in the hole to be destroyed like the Death Star).

    Independence Day: entering the Mother Ship by a triangle-shaped entrance and escorted by two alien ships while driving inside. Also the final nuke with fireworks in the sky.

    Pandorum: mankind (assumed to be) moving towards another suitable planet.

    The Island: deceptive truth told to the protagonist, who discovers to be a clone. White settings.

    2001 A Space Odyssey: obviously the HAL 9000 red eye. Also the astronauts in hyper-sleep killed before they can wake up.

    Mad Max: scavengers in a post-apocalyptic dystopic world.

    Star Wars: dogfights in the canyons against ball-shaped ships. Also the drones shot into a hole on their back to be destroyed just like the first Death Star.

  • TopperHarley

    Independence Day, Pandorum, The Island, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Mad Max, Star Wars.

    Independence Day: entering the Mother Ship by a triangle-shaped entrance and escorted by two alien ships while driving inside. Also the final nuke with fireworks in the sky.

    Pandorum: mankind (assumed to be) moving towards another suitable planet.

    The Island: deceptive truth told to the protagonist, who discovers to be a clone. White settings.

    2001 A Space Odyssey: obviously the HAL 9000 red eye. Also the astronauts in hyper-sleep killed before they can wake up.

    Mad Max: scavengers in a post-apocalyptic dystopic world.

    Star Wars: dogfights in the canyons against ball-shaped ships. Also the drones shot into a hole on their back to be destroyed just like the first Death Star.

  • Riiiight

    I can’t believe you missed the actual referential LINES from the film! And, come on, Star Wars – the canyon dog fighting scene.


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