Oblivion – Script Review

May 2, 2013 by     7 Comments    Posted under: Script Reviews

oblivion-1Hi all.

Today’s script is something a lot of people have been excited about.

The script alone has been one of the more sought after so far this year. (Especially when you take it down until the movie comes out and have people blast you with emails asking to put it back up.)

Can it live up to the hype, or will it end up an empty shell of what it once was, having the occasional reader come back to it, harvesting what resources he can?

Don’t forget to check out the script here.

1.) Marketability of the Idea

Sci-fi movie, so it’s got my attention at least, and as one smart fella told me, there’s a trend growing in Hollywood to snatch up mid-budget sci-fi movies. (Although my hunch is that this leans more towards big budget, but people would still want to take a look.)

This is amped up by the fact that the setting is a post-apocalyptic world. For some reason, most of us are intrigued to see what life would be like after “the worst” happens.

A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

Logline is also decent, so long as you know or have a hint that it’s on Earth in a not-too-happy future, people will want to check it out.

(As evidenced by the number of downloads and popularity on this site.)

The idea’s worth exploring.

2.) Plot Stability

Most of the plot was interesting and a page turner.

We were wondering about the “aliens” enough in the beginning that when we reached the midpoint and Jack gets captured by them, I knew the structure of the story was solid.

The Backstory

One thing the writers did well, was teasing the backstory out.

Jack, the main character, gave a brief description at the beginning, telling his version. Aliens came to the planet, blew up the moon causing natural disasters wiping out most of the population, and then the remaining humans nuked the planet. Victory.

As the story progresses though, we begin to wonder if that’s 100% accurate.

Little things begin to happen.

A space shuttle reactivates, crashing to Earth, and the drones that are allegedly there to protect the remaining human population start firing on the shuttle survivors.

Jack manages to save one woman who keeps showing up in his dreams, and when he takes her to his home, Victoria, Jack’s partner and love interest, sedates the woman when she begins asking about Jack (without him knowing).

On top of that, Tet, the artificial moon that serves as the current new home for the human race, only contacts Victoria and Jack through text messages. No face time. No voice calls.

Finally when Jack is captured by the “aliens” he finds out they’re actually what’s left of the human population on Earth, and he’s told that Tet contains the true aliens. Apparently humans DIDN’T win the war.

But should Jack trust them? (Hard thing to answer, being that Beech is played by Morgan Freeman, who’s voice we’ve come to trust and admire.)

It’s also here where Beech gives Jack the opportunity to save the human race, and destroy the aliens once and for all, but can he do it?

Up to this point, everything was cool, and I was enjoying myself.

And then…

The Twist

*SPOILER*

(If you’ve not read the script, and don’t want the story ruined, best skip the rest of this review. Remember, I warned you…)

I literally boo’ed when I read what was going on.

Not just the twist, but how the writers drag it out. Jack sees this mysterious man working in a situation just like Jack does, but obscured by a swirl of smoke and a bandana around his face.

Then, OOPS, Jack’s looking at himself. He’s a clone!

Booooooooooooooo!

Hi. Moon called. They want their plot twist back.

The whole unique world was ruined by the lack of originality in the ending. Moon did it prior to this script AND did it better.

Having a character do a menial task, on a 5 year stint no less, all the while being lied to and replaced by a carbon copy of themselves? You can dress it up all you like with Sky Castles, and Bubbleships, and forbidden radioactive zones, but it’s still being a copy cat.

Now I know I might catch a lot of flack here, and I welcome a discussion on the topic, but I’m not sure “same plot, different setting” counts when people say, “Give me the same thing, only different.”

So they’re clones, and moving past the striking similarities to Moon, we’re not given enough for character conclusions and decisions to make sense. Almost as if they were trying so hard NOT to give things away that we weren’t given enough.

Garbled Transmission

Victoria replays a garbled transmission once Jack goes missing.

After breaking it down and descrambling it, she discovers it’s her talking to Jack.

The problem with this is we’re told it’s a “recording” and Victoria breaks down. I’m assuming now that it’s an exchange that never happened between our Jack and Victoria, but nothing gives us a clue to that. All we see is her breaking down, and could easily be interpreted that they’re growing apart as a couple.

We’re left thinking it’s a recording of something they said previously, but if so, why would she jump to the conclusion that they’re clones?

This leads her to a speech on page 88, right before she kills herself, where she tells Jack, “I think they made us.”

Later, when Jack meets Jack 2, it suddenly all makes sense, including Victoria’s last words. EXCEPT, it DOESN’T all make sense because there was no logical path from Point A to B.

If they are clones, there needs to be a few more early hints, maybe where Jack talks to Victoria 2, and then Victoria doesn’t remember that conversation. She can’t hear one transmission, then jump to the “logical” conclusion just because the authors need her too.

Original Jack and Victoria

There’s this odd bit at the end, where we see Jack and Victoria approaching Tet for the first time.

To signify what is happening they’re called “original” I guess signifying that these were who the clones are based off of.

I didn’t understand what was going on though. Julia, who we now know Jack was engaged to, is in a sleeping pod while Jack and Victoria are acting a bit too chummy as pilot and co-pilot.

Then they take this flirty picture and enter Tet to make first contact with the aliens. Jack rests his hand on Julia’s sleeping pod that feels more like, “See ya,” than, “I love you.”

Unfortunately, what was probably meant to explain some of the backstory instead had me wondering more about character relationships and motivations.

The Love Story

Following the point from above, Jack keeps having dreams about Julia, so when he finally finds her in the shuttle wreckage, he wants to do everything to help her.

And for the most part he does, practically sacrificing Victoria for her. (Sacrificed as I’m pretty sure Jack could have saved her in the Bubbleship if he really wanted to.)

Then an odd thing happens.

Jack rushes to Sky Tower 2, getting this healing salve to save Julia. There he meets Victoria 2, which is a younger version of his Victoria. He talks about how beautiful she is, in a way that suggests he wants his old life back and wants to stay with her.

It doesn’t make sense as he hated his old life, and was hoping to leave Victoria. He only seems to save Julia out of obligation.

Few Minor Things…

Julia has a child at the end, which in itself seems ridiculous. Delivering a baby in this setting is a bit silly.

Not to mention I was trying to figure out who got her pregnant. I’m assuming it was “Original” Jack, but it bugged me, especially when Jack 2 showed up after 3 years of wandering around, looking for his stolen bubbleship.

The other thing that bothered me was Tet, or at least Victoria needing it to keep visual tabs on Jack.

I get that the aliens were trying to keep the clones all separate from one another, but really, there’s no way to relay signals? Jack routinely gets into things he’s not supposed to, but the aliens don’t seem to care. You’d think they’d want Victoria to be able to keep a better eye on things, ensuring that clones don’t bump into each other.

Good Plot Point

Aside from the initial plot being good, there was one thing I wanted to talk about here as it’s been an issue in several of the paid reviews I’ve done.

Drone 166.

This drone appears throughout the entire story, tying it all together.

It’s the first drone we see Jack fix, and it’s hinted at being evil.

It’s also the drone that starts firing on the survivors of the shuttle, shown being evil.

Lastly, it chases Jack and Julia across the “radioactive zone” that leads him to discover he and Victoria are clones, as it wants to kill them. Evil.

My point being that this could easily have been a different drone each time, but there’s little payoff that way.

We as authors need to tie the entire story together, and I appreciated Drone 166’s role in urging the plot along.

oblivion-23.) Quality of Characters

The two main characters were good.

Jack and Victoria had a nice Ying and Yang flow going.

She’s the responsible one, who loves him, looking forward to their future together on Mars, while he’s reckless and wants to stay behind to be the last person on Earth.

No problem there, and they both seemed very three dimensional.

The problem is with the supporting cast.

First is Julia, who doesn’t feel “real.” She goes back and forth between wanting to tell Jack who he is, and struggles with loving him. This pattern is mimicked again when she realizes he’s a clone. She is disgusted by that fact, then ends up living with Jack 2 at the end.

This behavior wouldn’t be bad if we knew what her motivations were. On a few occasions I wanted to scream, “What the hell do you want, lady?!”

Her story needed to be flushed out more, as the snippets of backstory weren’t enough to make us really care about her.

Beech and crew.

When they show up, it’s too short. They present a possible ending for the story and that’s it. They peace out and die as drones open fire on their secret base.

We’re given a scene at the end with Beech dying, where he convinces Jack to do what needs to be done, but I’m not sure I’d feel bad if I wasn’t imaging Morgan Freeman in a death scene.

Same was true for the other survivors in his posse. They were an opposition to Jack being trusted, and that was it.

In the end they didn’t really matter with what happens in the story, so it’s arguable if you even needed them to show up at all. Maybe Jack could have discovered for himself the twist, with the help of Julia, and decided to save the world.

4.) Dialogue and Description

Description

Was good.

This is one of the main reasons I enjoyed the script.

oblivion-descThe fantastic, futuristic setting was clearly defined not to mention fantastic. This is a MUST when using a setting that exists only in the author’s mind. As authors we have to make it work for our readers, and the Sky Tower in the clouds was awesome, especially with all it’s little gadgets.

(One thing I didn’t like was the outdoor pool, and I’d argue the winds that high in the atmosphere wouldn’t make for a feasible swimming environment.)

The other thing the description did SPLENDIDLY was set up an enjoyable tone. This is another issue I’ve touch on in more recent paid reviews. We need to dress things up, even using the often controversial “unfilmable” to accomplish what we’re trying to get across.

Examples:

Page 17IT SHIFTS! A hundred tons of twisted metal just moved an inch above him. Best leave that alone…

We can see EXACTLY what Jack is doing and thinking with the “best leave that alone” line.

Page 17A moment, Jack hanging in space, gravity clawing at him, falling…

Gravity is an intangible thing, but it “clawing” helps us see that no matter how much he needs to fly across the chasm, gravity is ultimately going to win. Brief moment of suspense when we question whether he’ll make it or not.

Page 22He admits it with a glance. Offers no explanation.

Page 33It’s not the first time he’s done this, but she hates it every time.

And there were a decent number of other examples sprinkled throughout the script.

Dialogue

This portion was also good.

The first thing I’ll make note of is Jack’s dialogue, that lends to his careless, childlike nature. I enjoyed it, especially his dialogue when talking to Bob, the ship/rover.

Second, there was also a decent amount of subtext.

(Sorry, this part you’ll have to read for yourselves, since I can’t copy and paste. I’m making you work, OH NOES!)

Page 49 – Victoria drops hints about the necessity of being an “effective team.” This is hinted at in the rest of the script, but we learn why she’s so obsessed with it. Their success as a team will get them one of the first spots on the new Mars colony.

The beauty of this is, the term “effective team.” What does that mean? It’s an odd way of calling them a couple, but maybe it relates to a working relationship. We’re unsure, but it gets us wondering if they’re supposed to be lovers at all, which excites us to read and find out.

Page 68 – Beech tells Jack that life isn’t what it seems for him. Jack doesn’t believe it, so Beech asks him to remember his past, specifically one thing, “How did your mother smell?”

There could have been a long argument about this, but with one simple, and brilliant line of dialogue, Beech shows Jack that he’s right, even if it does take Jack the rest of the story to accept it.

That part was brilliant.

5.) Format

Page 3 has a cool “morning ritual” montage. Check that out if you have questions about formatting montages for your own script. It was easy to follow and helped give us the setting for our story.

Around page 15 I got bored with the “we this, we that” type angles going on. They made for cool visuals, but anytime I read “we” it reminded me I’m not really there with the characters or what’s happening to them.

Lastly, typos started showing up more frequently towards the end. Almost as if the writers were in a hurry to wrap things up before page 109. On page 86 there are two in back to back sentences.

Ship grid to a stop…

Jack leans to checks on Julia…

Most of them seemed to be simple noun/verb agreement.

Not a huge deal, true, but an easily remedied problem.

Oblivion-36.) What can this script teach us?

Setting up a good tone.

As I mentioned, the description of the fantastic setting helped me enjoy this script. In fact, I smiled when I saw the little unfilmables that explained completely what was going on, and in a unique way.

In my own recent scripts, I’ve made it a point to focus more on this, which has helped, because even as I hear that dreaded “PASS” I’m still often told that the style of my writing was enjoyable.

If anything, creating a unique and interesting tone will allow a reader to get from page 1 to the end of your story, and that in itself is a BIG STEP in the write direction. (See what I did there?)

7.) What, if anything, should we avoid emulating?

Do your homework.

Yes there will be similar ideas floating around, but too similar is BAD. If the big twist of your story is one that’s already been done, what else can you come up with? Can you take that twist to the next level? Playing off the existing work, will making the opposite happen be a cooler new twist?

When we challenge ourselves we can achieve great things, but taking the easy way out seldom takes us someplace worthwhile.

Rating: Read this to learn about interesting script tone. (Alternately – Read it if you ever wondered what Moon would have been like with a bigger budget.)

7 Comments + Add Comment

  • I couldn’t read this review past a curtain point, too many spoilers. but I hear the film is pretty good. kind of a throwback to 70’s sci-fi.

  • certain point, curtain point, whatever. this damn autocorrect thing for IE has become more troublesome than helpful.

    so I watched the movie last night and loved it. that bubble ship thing was amazing, he was practically a character all on its own. please, future, let us have those!

    okay, the clone thing did kind of throw me off a bit. but as the plot went along, it actually started to make sense.

    it also made perfect sense that the aliens were machinery based. everything was just so cold and robotic in everything that they did. from blowing up the moon, let the planet take care of us, to sending in drones and clones to pick off the rest. that is some cold calculating crap, man. no battle. no war. simple as can be.

    and the sound those drones make when the boot up is damn terrifying. they become really great villains in this, even though they are mostly flying white eyeballs. they move so quickly and they all look the same, so to be honest I never really noticed their numbers.

    there was this show on the history channel, can’t remember the name. just it was about what would happen if aliens invaded. in that show they even had giant trashcan looking machines that would go around collecting our nature resources. except instead of having tom cruise fly in a dying morgan freeman with a nuke, they used air balloons to fly up and blow up the ships. I think i’ll take oblivion’s ending.

    I don’t know, I love this movie.

  • Brett, I agree. I deferred from seeing it initially because I was somewhat concerned about Cruise, but I think he put on a decent show. As did the rest of the cast and production crew.

    It does have a certain feel that is more artistic than action adventure oriented. To be sure, there are plenty of explosions and other assorted unpleasantness, but it doesn’t go over the top for me. There’s also the horror of being killed in one’s sleep to add to the mix. I love how the movie goes from a beautiful, all is well with the world” feeling to one of dread.

    Hank, I got a great chuckle out of “Hi. Moon called. They want their plot twist back.”

    One of the great problems of science fiction in film is that many concepts tend to become inbred and “literary.” Time travel has been done to death, as have clones and other assorted dopplegangers. I blame Star Trek, in particular, for this lack of originality. But many of these are good stories.

    The plot of Moon uses cloning far more centrally than does Oblivion. But I think Oblivion works it into the plot nicely…the “security mind wipe” is a great way to explain to a clone why he or she has no memories. And the notion of passing along shadow memories through the cloning process is itself an interesting question. When Avatar came out, lots of folks panned the plot as “Dances With Wolves” in space. (Or in blue, if you prefer).

    In all, when I think of the flaws in this movie, I remind myself of the great artistic masterpiece the Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke created in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film left you with questions. Oblivion is artistic as well, but leaves you with at least something of a conclusion, if a tad trite.

    Thanks for this script review and the PDF of same, Hank. I would like to envision a time after the events in Oblivion. Humans using alien tech to rebuild the devastated Earth…finding utopia in the ashes of dystopia. Perhaps there will be a sequel. Hollywood loves sequels.

  • Having lived and worked in Hollywood the last 20 years I get a little offended when I see overt stealing of plot points from other screenplays and/or films.

    Given that sentiment this is what bothered me about “Oblivion:”

    If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen “The Island” with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor watch it before watching “Oblivion” so you can see the overt rip-offs.

    I think some of today’s writers must get stuck and just start watching movies and end up copying too much material from other films. Maybe they do it deliberately or maybe they don’t realize it, but it’s happening A LOT!

    So here’s where I take issue with the story in Oblivion as compared to The Island:

    – Clones are being used like slaves but they don’t realize it.

    – To give them hope they think they are going to a moon (Oblivion) an Island (The Island) to join other survivors.

    – The operation is basically blown because the clones start having actual memories in the form of dreams.

    Okay, that part was very disappointing for me especially since they could have gone in a dozen other different, more unique, directions.

    And this clone element is also very hard to believe, even if you suspend disbelief.. And what about all the unanswered questions.

    For example, why did he take so long to go investigate the area affected by radiation? Why did it take so long for the rebels to make contact? Why did it take an event to make the aliens send numerous drones after the survivors? How many clones are working around the globe and wouldn’t they all remember they were in love and be curious? Once the alien ship explodes what happened to all the other clones working on earth? And what the hell is up with the aliens? At least in “Independence Day” we had an actual alien life form!

    And the ending… what a let down. A part from the corny dialogue, how many times to we need to see the alien ship blown up by getting inside to solve the problem? It was done in “Independence Day” and most recently they did it in “Pacific Rim” and now here in “Oblivion.”

    It’s no wonder studios are losing money. How about making a rule going forward: no more stealing material until it’s at least 25 years old.

    you’d know we already saw the “clone having memories” storyline used, and much more affectively than in OBLIVION, and the “clones being created to serve but they think they are going to some “safe place” not affected by “radiation” which the OBLIVION writers stole right out of THE ISLAND. It was an island, duh, in THE ISLAND and it’s a moon off a planet in OBLIVION. But as we’ve seen in both movies, that safe place is a lie to keep the clones hopeful.

    Then OBLIVION did the same exact think PACIFIC RIM did and took the plot point out of INDEPENDENCE DAY concerning the destruction of the ship. In all 3 films you have to “get into the alien ship” and then explode a bomb or release a virus in the case of INDIE DAY. The worst thing about it in OBLIVION is the stupid dialogue from Tom Cruise before they blow up the bomb.

    I guess Hollywood just doesn’t worry about quality writing anymore or they wouldn’t keep doing this to us.

    • To be fair, Oblivion came out before Pacific Rim, so can we really blame one for stealing from the other?

      • To be fair, you mention Moon as well, but JK wrote Oblivion in 2005, 4 years before Moon came out.

        There is no copying, only repetition as, let’s be honest, there are not many original ideas left for film, most ideas have been done before.

        What I loved about the Obilivion script is it was pretty original. Yes there is duplication from other movies (as with 99% these days) but the overall script was fresh, original and well crafted.

        It was a page turner for me, from start to finish.

  • i’m pretty sure logan’s run came out before any of those films. even clonus which is what the island was kind of a ripoff on.

Got anything to say? Go ahead and leave a comment!

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>