Oblivion may be the most thoroughly derivative science-fiction film in recent memory. The Tom Cruise post-apocalyptic action film directed by Joseph Kosinski ransacks 50 years of classics in the genre. But for what purpose? Not apparently for winking irony. Or to make some kind of tongue-in-cheek pastiche that’s a statement about the recurrence of certain sci-fi tropes. The movie would have to be funny for that to be the case, and it’s deadly serious. In fact, you could probably even tell in the trailers for Oblivion just how many movies it’s referencing intentionally, subconsciously, or kleptomaniac-ally. These are 12 films whose makers should be crying “Stop, thief!”
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) — If you need to telegraph mechanical villainy stat, you know what to do. Give the evil machine in question a pulsing red eye, just like neurotic supercomputer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick‘s film. That’s also what Andrew Stanton and the makers of WALL-E decided to do for their villain in the Pixar film. But Oblivion goes further, also giving 2001‘s slow-moving spherical pods a turbo-charged upgrade so they can scour the irradiated Earth for targets to blast.
2. WALL-E (2008) — Speaking of the little ‘bot, WALL-E actually casts a giant shadow over Oblivion. For one basic reason. It’s because Tom Cruise’s Jack is WALL-E. He’s been left behind on Earth to oversee clean-up while the rest of humanity abandoned the planet to take refuge on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, following the war with the Scavengers, an alien race who invaded our planet, destroyed our moon, and caused us to seek a safe haven off-world. Jack even shares WALL-E’s affinity for little green plants, an affinity that Olga Kurylenko‘s Julia also shares with him, making her the film’s EVE. Andrea Riseborough‘s Victoria is Auto, the rogue automatic pilot artificial intelligence program on-board the Axiom that wants to destroy plants so as to prove that earth is uninhabitable. And Melissa Leo‘s Southern belle dispatcher is Fred Willard‘s Buy ‘n Large CEO.
3. La Jetée (1962) — In Chris Marker‘s seminal time-travel film about a nuclear war survivor who’s sent back in time to get aid for post-apocalytic Earth, or stop the war outright, the one thing keeping the unnamed protagonist sane is his powerful memory of a beautiful woman from before the war. That mental image sustains him, much like the way Jack’s mysterious memory of touring New York with Olga Kurylenko’s Julia sustains and fascinates him.
4. Planet of the Apes (1968) — Franklin Schaffner‘s parable about bigotry and ignorance, starring Charlton Heston as an astronaut who gets lost in space and crashes on a planet populated by intelligent but xenophobic simians, pioneered the idea of showing ruined versions of iconic landmarks to indicate an apocalyptic setting. Most notably? The Statue of Liberty jutting out of a beach. Likewise, Oblivion shows the Statue of Liberty’s torch dislodged and caught in a rocky ravine. Actually, Tom Cruise’s Jack only seems to visit the ruins of iconic landmarks: the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument, and a Super Bowl stadium are all on his sightseeing list.
5. Prometheus (2012) — Oh yeah, and if it wasn’t already obvious that Oblivion shares its washed-out, icy gray hues with Prometheus, consider that they were both shot in Iceland, the new go-to sci-fi location.
6. Dune (1984) — Like Frank Herbert‘s novel, and David Lynch‘s quixotic 1984 adaptation of it, Tom Cruise’s Jack has a revelation that makes him switch sides in the war he’s been fighting. (It’s not a spoiler to say that, since it’s right in the trailer.) By the end, I almost expected co-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to pay messianic tribute to Jack by shouting, “And how can this be? For he is the Kwisatz Haderach!”
7. The Matrix (1999) — In order for Jack to have everything he knows about his world upended, he needs to have an inspirational mentor figure just like Morpheus. Only instead of Laurence Fishburne, it’s Morgan Freeman. He doesn’t wear leather trench coats, but he does don goggle-glasses and a cape. And smoke cigars! Because it may be the end of the world, but that’s no excuse for you not to look cool. Also, there is an image near the end of the film in which we see thousands of humans in pods very much like those the machines in The Matrix use to feed off human beings’ body heat.
8. Blade Runner (1982) — Much of the mystery in Ridley Scott‘s dystopian thriller centers on one question: Is Harrison Ford‘s Decker a human being, or is he a Replicant, a machine made to look human? Jack begins to question his identity in Oblivion as well.
9. Minority Report (2002) — It’s a Tom Cruise movie stealing from a Tom Cruise movie! My mind is twisted like an ouroboros just thinking about it. Andrea Riseborough’s Victoria uses giant console touchscreens just like Cruise’s pre-crime agent in Steven Spielberg‘s film.
10. Aliens (1986) — Olga Kurylenko’s Julia was in hyper-sleep, a state of suspended animation, for a long, long time. Much like Aliens‘ Ripley, who slept more than half a century after the events of Alien.
11. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) — How do you convey an event of global magnitude that’s also really, really weird? Show a ship tanker beached on dry land. Only an alien force, an apocalyptic event, or both could make that happen, right? Steven Spielberg had a tanker re-materialize in the Gobi Desert in his symphonic alien-abduction epic, and Joseph Kosinski does the same to indicate the world-ending mess humanity’s finding itself in the middle of.
12. Independence Day (1996) — Like Roland Emmerich‘s alien invasion film, Kosinski’s alien invasion film involves a trip into the belly of the beast. Look at this little ship being swallowed Jonah-like by this much bigger ship! We make no promises about there being a fat lady singing, however.
Did you catch Oblivion this weekend?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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