Wednesday, May 01, 2013


A couple of weeks ago I went to see the new science fiction movie 'Oblivion'. There has been a certain amount of buzz about this film, particularly since it's one of the very few films released this century that isn't a sequel to another film, or a TV show, or a comic, or a line of toys, or a ride at Disneyland, or all of the above.

Furthermore, as some pundits who should know better have argued, it's great science fiction.

But they're wrong. Actually it's terrible science fiction.

It is visually enticing, with beautiful, otherworldy Icelandic exteriors. The actors did a good job of doing what actors do. But it was so derivative that I knew what the entire plot was going to be literally within five minutes of the opening credits. And, at its core, it didn't make sense. The science part of science fiction went right out the window in the first draft of the script, and no one could be bothered considering any ways to get it back in. Presumably they didn't think anyone would care.

My central problem is with the fundamental motivation of the villain, which, I'm sure you'll agree, is part of the bedrock of a story's believablity. If you haven't seen 'Oblivion', be aware that the rest of this post is one huge spoiler and also won't make sense.

So, to the basic problem...

Let's say you are the Tet. You arrive in a new solar system and need to plunder it for vast amounts of power. Do you,

a) exhaust a large amount of your existing energy reserves in blowing up Earth's moon, then expending even more of it creating thousands of clones, drones, hovering fusion reactors and cool poletop yuppie pads, all so that you can suck up Earth's water and convert it into electricity.


b) ignore the Earth and park yourself next to the MIND-BOGGLINGLY ENORMOUS NATURAL FUSION REACTOR at the centre of the solar system and harvest its energy in ways that the natives won't even notice, much less cause you trouble trying to prevent.

That's what makes 'Oblivion' bad science fiction. There are many things an alien being might want from our planet - water, oil, biomass, genetic data - but energy isn't one of them. We want energy from our planet, but that's because we're stuck on it. Out in space, where there's no night, no clouds and no distorting atmosphere to offer drawbacks from solar energy, it's an entirely different story.

But science is hard. It's much easier to say "Meh", and just film Tom Cruise running about randomly yelling and shooting at things.


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