Premise: (from IMDB) A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.
About: While this draft was written by “The Departed” screenwriter William Monahan, Monahan didn’t seem to make the final cut when the credits were given out. The writer doing the revisions here, Karl Gajdusek, gets credit, along with Joseph Kosinski (the director) and Michael Arndt (significant since this is the only sci-fi script we have from Arndt, who is of course writing Star Wars VII). Gajdusek is probably best known for writing the 2011 thriller “Trespass” which starred past-their-prime actors Nicholas Cage and Nicole Kidman. He also created the recent TV series, “Last Resort,” about a bunch of deceived American military men forced to take over an island to defend themselves against the very country that is supposed to be protecting them. Oblivion stars Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman, and is directed by ultra-slick Tron: Legacy director, Joseph Kosinski.
Writer: William Monahan (current revisions by Karl Gajdusek) (Based on the story by Joseph Kosinski)
Details: 109 pages (March 27, 2011 draft)
I heard good things about this script over the past year or so. But one criticism kept coming back at me – The first half was really good. The second half, not so much.
Didn’t matter. I was still interested. William Monahan isn’t known for sci-fi, so his involvement was intriguing. The guy excels at period pieces, which are great springboards for sci-fi writers, since period pieces are all about research and world-building and detail. Those same tools are what’s needed to create great sci-fi.
I also love the trailer for this. I’ve been a fan of Kosinski since Tron: Legacy. I know the plot in that film wasn’t the greatest, but boy was the direction slick. Directing-wise, Kosinski reminds me of a young Gore Verbinski, someone who understood how to make a commercial film, yet has just enough of a unique eye and temperament to make his stuff feel different. I have a feeling that this guy will be directing some of the biggest summer blockbusters in Hollywood within the next couple of years.
Oblivion begins with the mono-named Jack explaining to us (via voice-over) that aliens tried to out-war us humans and lost. The bad news is, because we had to use our nukes to beat’em, it left our planet a shit-hole. Jack is a clean-up guy of sorts. You see, there are still rogue aliens skittering across the planet, and we’ve built these droids to fly around and kill them. But sometimes the aliens shoot our droids down. Jack goes around and fixes them.
When he’s not fixing droids, Jack hangs out at his sky-home with his girlfriend and droid-repair partner, Victoria. She helps monitor the downed droids so Jack knows where to go. The two couldn’t be more different, however. Jack loves Earth, even if it’s fallen apart. Victoria can’t wait to leave so she can be one of the first humans to colonize Mars. In the meantime, the “TET,” a space station orbiting earth that houses the million or so humans remaining, keeps her abreast of their mission goals, and makes sure everything’s running smoothly between her and Jack.
But everything’s not running smoothly with Jack. He keeps having these dreams of another mysterious woman, a woman he was intimate with. That recurring dream eventually comes crashing down, literally, when an old shuttle, launched into orbit before the war, crash-lands, with the woman he’s been seeing in his dreams in one of the sleep chambers. Yikes! Even stranger, when she wakes up, she knows his name!
(MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD) Things unravel from there. When inspecting a downed droid, Jack’s attacked by a group of aliens. He’s shot down, and when he wakes up, he’s in some kind of underground cave. It turns out, the aliens? Not aliens. They’re humans dressed all funky to disguise themselves from the droids. Droids that aren’t hunting down aliens at all. But HUMANS. Why would human-controlled droids be hunting down humans? Because it’s all a lie. The humans didn’t win the war. The aliens did. The TET isn’t an American base. It’s an alien ship. Jack and Victoria have been tricked into helping the aliens exterminate the last of the humans.
But these humans have one last plan in the hopper. They’ve got their hands on a bomb. If they can somehow get someone to deliver it up to the TET, they can destroy the aliens once and for all. Jack would totally be down for this if he wasn’t having a mental breakdown. It’s not easy to learn you’ve been working for the man. Especially when “the man” is a mass murderer of your people! But eventually Jack comes around. He wants to do the right thing and kill some alien ass. But with the TET onto his plan, it very well may be too late.
I gotta say, I really liked this script. The structure was especially strong. Structure is all about setting up pillars and dangling carrots to get you from one pillar to the next. Anything you can do so that we want to make it to the next pillar is fair game. Here, it’s all the mysteries. First, who is the woman in the dreams? Then when he finds her, how does she know his name? Then, what’s on the voice recorder box from the crashed shuttle? Then, what’s in the “forbidden” areas? Monahan keeps us guessing, and therefore keeps us wanting to get to that next pillar.
This then leads us to our eventual goal (back to spoilers) – kill the aliens. But what’s so cool about “Oblivion” is that it layers these story engines. We’re trying to figure things out (what’s in the forbidden zone?) at the same time as we’re gearing up to achieve our goal – kill the aliens.
People often ask me what’s the biggest difference between an amateur and a pro script. There’s no universal answer, but something from Oblivion reminded me of the question: The complexity of the relationships. (major spoilers) Look at the relationship between the three major parties here, Jack, Victoria, and Julia (the girl from the downed shuttle). Jack turns out to be a clone of the man Julia loved. And with Victoria also being a clone, Jack’s relationship with her turns out to be nothing but a fabrication of the alien’s programming. So he’s stuck in a really weird place. He loves both of these women, despite the fact that his love for them isn’t technically “real.” This leads to a lot of gray area whenever the relationships are explored, areas that felt fresh because we’d never seen them before. Do you know how hard it is to create unique male-female relationships in a medium that’s been going on for 100 years? Monahan figured out a way to do it. And that to me is the sign of a professional.
As you know, I’m always talking about conflict. I like how Monahan injected not one element of conflict, but TWO into his main relationship (Jack and Victoria). Jack is carefree while Victoria’s by the book. Jack wants to stay on earth while Victoria’s desperate to leave. For a movie whose first half rests solely on this relationship, adding two elements of conflict instead of one becomes essential. The plot didn’t have enough going on to only house a single lane of conflict between its two main characters. Decisions like this really impressed me.
If I had to log a complaint about Oblivion, it might be how little we see of the human rebels. We basically get a couple of scenes with them and that’s it. I liked the way the script ended, but maybe these guys could’ve logged more minutes prepping Jack and getting things ready for the bomb transfer. My gut tells me that’s probably something they changed in the subsequent drafts. But we’ll see.
I don’t know what readers were talking about when they said the second half of this script wasn’t good. I thought it kept getting better all the way til the end, which is what a good script should do. I’ll be checking this out on opening weekend as I’m curious to see what they’ve changed. I’m guessing it wasn’t much. It would be foolish to mess with this script.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: I learned a lot of things from this script. But I think the big one is that if I were writing a sci-fi script, I’d keep a handful of mysteries in my story until the very end. One of the problems with a lot of these generic sci-fi movies today is that they show all their cards early, and the second half of the script amounts to a business-like execution of the goal. Oblivion has questions going all the way up until the end. The story then becomes more about getting these answers than it does executing the big traditional climax. So dangle those carrots all the way until the end of your story, people. Don’t let us eat’em too early.