- The Wall Street Journal—Joe Morgenstern:“ . . . this bloated sci-fi adventure, with Tom Cruise in a starring role, suggests a future in which the theatrical movie medium is dominated by productions that are ever richer in high-tech visual arts and ever more impoverished in the art of telling a story. It’s not that “Oblivion” has nothing on its mind; the narrative is fairly complex, although full of recycled themes, and potentially affecting. But feelings are discussed instead of dramatized in a film that doesn’t know what to make of them, while coherence suffers the moon’s fate.”
But Wait, There’s More
- The Washington Post—Michael O’Sullivan: “It’s an engrossing, if complicated and twisty, story, with plentiful sci-fi action and a provocative subtext about the nature of the human soul. At times, however, the balance between those two things feels off.”
- NPR—Scott Tobias: “Oblivion occupies an awkward no-man’s-land between escapist space adventure and heady science fiction, but it’s neither thrilling enough nor intellectually stimulating enough to satisfy devotees of either.”
- The Boston Globe—Mark Feeney: “Oblivion is a lot like its star: clean, cold, efficient, increasingly overblown, and not a little inexplicable.”
OK, Got it. Hollywood has trotted out yet another version of its fixed idea that science fiction movies don’t actually need stories with believable characters, understandable (if not engrossing) plots, and a combination of dynamic tension, action, and ideas. All they need (sigh) is big, expensive special effects and a bankable A-list star. But here’s the thing they need to understand: it’s the story, stupid.
The Story and the Writer
Years ago my company sponsored a technology conference at which @PeterGuber, the CEO of Mandalay Pictures was one of the speakers. He gave an excellent presentation to a packed room and his topic was the importance of story in the movies. It was informative, energizing, even inspiring, but I knew it wasn’t true.
When he took questions, my hand shot up. I said that I agreed wholeheartedly about the importance of story but wondered why, if that’s the case, the writer is the low man on the Hollywood totem pole. The writer is the person with the least power to even defend the integrity of his story from the myriad people who think they have a better idea.
The System and the CEO
Mind you, none of this is hurting Oblivion any. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $37,054,485 domestically and another $112 million overseas on a production budget of $150M, shrunk to $120 after deducting location credits. This, despite a score of 57% Rotten from +Rotten Tomatoes on the Tomatometer. More money will come.
The Way It’s Been Done