February 25, 2014
So I have two gold standards for judging fan-edits:
1. Does this edit improve the film, replacing it on your shelf (or at least provide an equally-good alternative take)?
2. Is this a good movie, worth having "on the shelf"; in other words: re-watchable?
While I think the answer for this edit to #1 is "yes", it makes many improvements to the film, the answer to #2 is "no", it's still not a very good movie.
I've watched a LOT of movies at this point, so I'm not looking for a film to re-invent the wheel. Very few ideas haven't been used somewhere before. The real question is if a film has something original to add to the previous use of the idea, or if it can do the idea better. One of the big problems with Oblivion is that almost all of its ideas have been used before...and better. And the spins that it tries to add to those stories, it really fails to connect in a way that makes sense.
Firstly, I should say that this director makes gorgeous films that sound great. The presentation, like with Tron: Legacy before it, is amazing. You could probably edit this into about ten short 5-7 minute music videos with no dialogue, and it would be interesting and tell a cool story. But the explanations of things just kill this film, even with this edit. No fault to the editor, this thing is seamless and looks great, there are hardly any mis-steps there. Really the only thing I'd fault is that the music in the opening scene seemed over-loud to me, and it was oddly placed, too. It's an epic track, building to a grandiose wall of sound, but we're watching establishing shots of a normal daily routine, and the characters are going about their morning very matter-of-factly. I'd change the music there and let things ramp up slowly.
The other problems with this film are all related to the story and narrative flow, so SPOILERS from here on...
The conceit of the film is that aliens broke the moon, and the ramifications from that were earthquakes, flooding, massive seismic shifts, etc. It's weird in the beginning because they lead you to believe there was a nuclear war and there's radiation everywhere, and yet we see the Radioactive Zones appear safe. I was thinking "what kind of a bomb destroys entire landscapes except for isolated significant landmarks?" Later when we learn the truth about the war, we're left to believe that the destruction of the moon and the earthquakes caused mountains of sediment to rain all over the cities and bury them, except of the tops of tall buildings. Except that doesn't make any sense. For one, you can see the remnants of the moon still in orbit around Earth. Not enough bits came into Earth's atmosphere to bury all the cities. Also, there are no meteorites in the night shots, so no bits are coming down any more. ALSO, all the buildings have vanished except traditional ones like The Empire State building, which is far from the tallest building in New York, or the most stable. It definitely wouldn't be the last one peaking up over rubble. The whole state of the Earth is just cheesy movie logic that depends on the audience being stupid.
Another example is the whole system that the aliens have set up. The conceit of the movie is built around a huge twist: our hero is actually a clone (never seen that before!) and he's actually working for the bad guys (oooh, what a twist!) Okay, I kid, but actually that could be cool. If it made any sense. You're telling me that these aliens have conquered planets all over the place, and then they come to Earth as this unstoppable force. They come to drain our resources, especially our water (never mind that there are much bigger supplies of water on moons and other planets further out in our solar system). So they send all these drones out, and then they make clones go fix them.....what did they do before they had Earth clones?! They couldn't fix their own drones?! Or they could, but somehow it's easier to do this whole brainwashing/cloning scheme...like, requires less resources? If so, how come they don't have tons of clones of other species on their ship from when they've done this before? Like everything else in the film, we have a series of images and scenes designed to make the audience go "woah!" but which don't connect in any meaningful way.
There are a lot of other plot holes, but the biggest remaining one relates to the other clone, Tech 52. As the film is ending, the setup is telegraphed from a mile away. Tech 49 left him tied up by that cave, did the editor think we forgot about him? Clearly, 49 doesn't feel bad about sacrificing himself because he knows that he's leaving his wife to start again with another version of himself. It's a set-up done better in other sci-fi (I won't say which series if you haven't seen it) but it's hollow here. I suppose cutting him out of the end of this film, we could imagine that Tech 49 got fantastically lucky and impregnated his wife on the first try, but it's just another weak plot point of convenience after so many others. (Scanners on the alien ship can't detect the Scav leader? And the dying leader somehow survived long enough to make that trip? And the scanners couldn't detect 10 power cores, but they could detect Tech 49's perspiration level was too high? etc, etc) The original film ending is set up too clearly for this to not be obviously missing in this edit, despite the added plot convenience factor.
In the end, this version of the film is streamlined and delivers the story idea as well as it can. It's just not a well thought-out idea in the first place. Cruise did another great-looking sci-fi movie that had a much better story just a couple years later, Edge of Tomorrow, or watch Altered Carbon, or Ender's Game, or Blade Runner, or Planet of the Apes, or 2001 or heck even The Maze Runner. There are just so many sci-fi films that execute these ideas better... Oblivion is pretty appropriately named because it has nothing to justify its existence.