When I saw the trailer for Oblivion and Morgan Freeman says to Tom Cruise, “The people you work for lied to you, I immediately tried to find out which Phillip K. Dick story this movie was based upon. It turns out the source material is "an original unpublished graphic novel" by writer/director Joseph Kosinski. The idea that things are not what they seem to be is classic PKD, but watching this movie I was reminded of so many other genre films I decided you could make a viewing it a drinking game: take a shot every time you're reminded of something from another movie—call it “Drinking Yourself to Oblivion.”

(Along the way, when I remember a movie Mr. Kosinski referenced, I’m just gonna shout it out.)

In 2017, aliens attack Earth by destroying the Moon before sending in troops to kill the survivors of the resulting tidal damages. Earth wins the war but the planet is now uninhabitable and the survivors emigrate to Titan (Saturn’s largest moon). Sixty years later, Jack Harper is a technician assigned to repair the drones that protect the giant processing plants that extract fuel for the migration from seawater—and that hunt down the Scavs (“Scavengers”), remnants of the invading alien ground troops who attack the processors. (Silent Running!) He and his partner Victoria live in a high-in-the-sky home/base that makes you think, “This is how George and Judy lived before the kids showed up.” (The Jetsons—Victoria even has red hair!)

One day a group of Scavs attack Jack, but he gets the feeling they didn’t want to kill him, just to capture him. Then a spacecraft lands in a nearby sector; Jack and Victoria are ordered to stay away but Jack investigates anyway and discovers the craft contains humans—from Earth, in “delta sleep”—and the drones are killing them (2001: A Space Odyssey!). He saves one the crew, Julia, who, when awakened, calls him be name. Against Victoria’s orders, Jack takes Julia back to the crash site to recover the ship’s flight data recorder and they are captured by Scavs. It is then that Jack discovers—

To say any more would give away the key surprises of the movie, but let me just say, Total Recall! Independence Day! Fahrenheit 451! Star Wars (any of them!)! Moon! Wall-E!…

Oblivion does some very smart things despite not exactly being “original:” it’s an alien invasion movie where we never see any aliens, rather than blasting us they use methods familiar to anyone who watches a lot of the space programs on the Science Channel (District 9!). The special effects are beautiful (Planet of the Apes! The Day After Tomorrow! The Matrix!) And the action flows smoothly. Still, for every smart thing the filmmakers do, there’s at least one dumb thing, like giving an astronaut an astronomy lesson or the usual bogus explanation for why the aliens want to invade Earth in the first place (Signs! Independence Day again!).

Oblivion is both homage to the last century of SF movies and a rip-off of them. It’s surprising but there’s little you can’t see coming. It has neat reverses but you get dizzy from them. It has gaping plot holes but you don’t notice them (most of them, anyway) until you’re on your way home from the theatre. It’s a (mostly) well-thought out movie, but ultimately, not very original. You’ll enjoy it, but not as much as most of the movies it’ll remind you of.

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