Oblivion (2013): Overview

Release date: 19 April 2013, United States

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As with all overviews, ALL THE SPOILERS ahead. Some movies warrant just a few paragraphs, but it turns out this is a rather complicated plot.

Oblivion opens 50 years after an alien invasion, during which a great many things happened.

  • Aliens called “Scavs” hammered the moon into huge clustered fragments
  • (In turn) Doing massive ecological damage to the Earth
  • The humans retaliated with nuclear weapons
  • The Earth became contaminated with radiation
  • Most of humanity had to leave the planet to colonize Titan
  • Massive hydro-rigs were set up in the oceans that convert seawater into energy
  • Semi-autonomous flying robots called drones patrol and defend the hydro-rigs from the remaining Scavs, who attempt to destroy the drones and hydro-rigs
  • A massive tetrahedral spaceship called the Tet was put in orbit around the earth to serve as command and control for pairs of humans who live as a couple and work as a team in their section to monitor and protect both the hydro-rigs and the drones
  • One member of these teams stays in their sky home, called the Tower, to monitor activity and relay information to and from the Tet
  • The other member of these teams, the Tech, operates a “bubbleship” to patrol the sector to which they are assigned

One team, Victoria and Jack, are two weeks away from retirement when they are awoken one night by a massive explosion. It is one of their hydro-rigs, sabotaged by Scavs in their section. While investigating the wreckage, they detect a strange radio signal. Jack traces it to its source, discovering a repeater in the ruined Empire State Building broadcasting a set of coordinates off-planet. Later he spies a vessel landing at the broadcast coordinates. He visits the crashed vessel to find it is part of a pre-war human spacecraft, the sleeping pod of the Odyssey. Within are hibernation chambers, but only one crewmember is alive. Jack recovers it as drones show up to destroy them. At the Tower, Jack and Victoria revive its occupant, Julia. The next morning Julia travels with Jack back to the crash site to fetch the flight recorder, but both are taken captive by Scavs.

In captivity Jack learns the horrible truth…

  • The Scavs are actually the only humans left after the war
  • The Tet, drones, and hydro-rigs are the alien technology
  • Jack and Victoria are the tools of the aliens defending their tech from the rest of humanity
  • Scavs remote-controlled the Odyssey to crash in order to scavenge its nuclear fuel for a bomb to be delivered to the Tet in a captured Drone

Victoria, unaware, sends drones to save Jack, forcing the Scavs to release Jack and Julia. The leader Beech encourages Jack to visit the forbidden radiation zones to confirm the truth. Julie further reveals…

  • The Odyssey was originally en route to Titan when it was intercepted by the alien Tet
  • Jack and Victoria were once part of the Odyssey crew as well
  • Jack and Julia were husband and wife

Through a remote-controlled bubbleship camera, Victoria observes them kissing and this drives her to betray Jack and Julie to the Tet. The Tet activates a Drone and sends it to kill them all, but it only kills Victoria before Julia destroys it. Traveling to another sector, Jack sees a clone of himself appear in a similar bubbleship, to service a Drone. They fight and the clone is killed, and Julia is wounded in the melee. Jack gets into the clone’s bubbleship and travels to its Tower, where he meets a Victoria clone, and he realizes that the planet must be populated by huge numbers of these clones. He fetches a medkit and returns to Julia. He takes her to recover in a log cabin in a lush valley he has been keeping secret from Victoria for a long time. After she heals, he returns to the Scavs, and helps them reprogram their captured Drone, but the Scav enclave is largely destroyed by other drones sent by the Tet.

They load the bomb into a hibernation chamber, appear to seal Julia inside, load it onto a bubbleship, and fly to the Tet. En route he plays the flight recording from the Odyssey to learn…

  • When the Odyssey originally approached the Tet, Victoria and Jack were pilot and copilot
  • When they were caught in the Tet’s tractor beam, they ejected the sleeping pod with the remainder of the crew to protect them

Finally, in the bowels of the Tet, he…

  • Sees the clone vats where more Jacks and Victorias are being grown
  • Faces the horrible alien intelligence
  • Awakens the person in the hibernation chamber, which—surprise—is Beech, not Julia
  • Explodes the bomb, destroying the Tet

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Back on Earth, Julia is awakes in a different hibernation chamber at the lush log cabin, as part of Jack’s duplicitous plan to save her. She gives birth to a daughter, and three years later is found by one of the Jack clones, accompanied by a group of the surviving Scavs.

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The Oblivion will be nerdsourced

The review of Oblivion will not go down as almost all of the others have, i.e., as a single author working his way through all interfaces in a given film. This review is distributed amongst several authors. How did this come about?

In April of 2014 I posted a call for readers of the site to band together to make reviewing a movie a little less onerous along with a poll to see which movie we should review. That movie is Oblivion, and the reviews will be going live over the next weeks.

Since this review will involve multiple people, keep an eye on the site for biography posts introducing each of the new authors before their first post goes live. Maybe you’ll be inspired to join the next “nerdsourcing” experiment.

Home 49

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Home 49 is a connected system that provides for the daily needs of Jack and Vika. It handles everything from morning breakfast, to video storage of previous missions, to maintenance of drones, to Jack’s personal weapons. The Home acts as both a residence and a watchtower, and is built on a slim stilt that reaches from ground level to above the cloud layer. This isolates Home 49 from the ground.

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Inside, the home pod is broken down into ‘functional’ spaces. These include the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, armory, and maintenance shop. It is connected to the exterior doors, windows, observation platform, landing pad, and pool.

The entire facility is a prefabricated structure (or at least a set-plan concept), and we see a nearly identical facility in Area 52. Cosmetic differences and changes to color scheme suggest a modicum of customization for each instance of the team.

The Breakfast console interface is multimodal, changing as Vika’s tasks change. Its contents are heavily mediated by Sally is an intermediary agent during most of Vika’s console tasks, though her perspective and information seems limited to that received from the drones or from Vika.

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The Breakfast console seems to scale with the task, and is capable of highlighting particular subtasks in progress, while displaying a wealth of peripheral or supplemental data. Continue reading

The Bubbleship Cockpit

image01 Jack’s main vehicle in the post-war Earth is the Bubbleship craft. It is a two seat combination of helicopter and light jet. The center joystick controls most flight controls, while a left-hand throttle takes the place of a helicopter’s thrust selector. A series of switches above Jack’s seat provide basic power and start-up commands to the Bubbleship’s systems. image05 Jack first provides voice authentication to the Bubbleship (the same code used to confirm his identity to the Drones), then he moves to activate the switches above his head. Continue reading

Bubbleship Comms

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Jack communicates with Vika via the HUD in the Bubbleship, and a small earbud that provides two-way audio.

He talks normally to Vika, who responds in kind. There is no visible confirmation of his connection to Vika, and no obvious way for him to send information back other than the sound of his voice.

As shown during the lightning strike sequence, Jack’s earbud is connected directly to the Bubbleship. All of his audio and telemetry requires the Bubbleship to connect with Vika’s control tower. When the Bubbleship’s power goes out, Jack’s communication is cut too. Continue reading

Drone Status Feed

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As Vika is looking at the radar and verifying visuals on the dispatched drones with Jack, the symbols for drones 166 and 172 begin flashing red. An alert begins sounding, indicating that the two drones are down.

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Vika wants to send Jack to drone 166 first. To do this she sends Jack the drone coordinates by pressing and holding the drone symbol for 166 at which time data coordinates are displayed. She then drags the data coordinates with one finger to the Bubbleship symbol and releases. The coordinates immediately display on Jack’s HUD as a target area showing the direction he needs to go. Continue reading

Hydro-rig Monitoring

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As a part of their morning routine, Jack makes the rounds in his Bubbleship to provide a visual confirmation that the hydro-rigs are operating properly. In order to send the hydro-rig coordinates to the Bubbleship, Vika:

  1. Holds with two fingers on the hydro-rig symbol on the left-hand side panel of the TETVision feed
  2. A summary of coordinates is displayed around the touchpoint (hydro-rig symbol)
  3. Drags the data up to the Bubbleship symbol on the side panel

Inconsistent interactions

When Vika sends the drone coordinates, she interacts directly with the map and uses only one finger. Why is the interaction for sending hydro-rig coordinates different than the interaction for sending drone coordinates? Continue reading

Communications with Sally

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While Vika and Jack are conducting their missions on the ground, Sally is their main point of contact in orbital TET command. Vika and Sally communicate through a video feed located in the top left corner of the TETVision screen. There is no camera visible in the film, but it is made obvious that Sally can see Vika and at one point Jack as well.

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The controls for the communications feed are located in the bottom left corner of the TETVision screen. There are only two controls, one for command and one for Jack. The interaction is pretty standard—tap to enable, tap again to disable. It can be assumed that conferencing is possible, although certain scenes in the film indicate that this has never taken place. Continue reading