In the year 2072, all that’s left of earth is a lot of dust, the remnants of our cities and structures, and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) and Jack (Tom Cruise), the maintenance team just awaiting permission to come join the rest of humanity on a space station before they relocate to another planet. But, not all is as it seems in director Joseph Kosinski’s (Tron) latest sci-fi dystopia Oblivion. When a mysterious stranger crash lands on earth, Jack Harper begins to question everything he knows.
EW spoke with Kosinski about the world creation behind Oblivion, the state of the art technologies he used, and his love of Indiana Jones. Check out the interview below before you see the film, which opens in the US on Friday.
1. Sorry kids, it might be popcorn film, but you’ve got to pay attention, too
“The tricky thing with science fiction is you have to create a reality and a rule system up front. In any other movie you can just dive in because it’s the world we understand, but in science fiction there is a lot of information to be presented which is why Star Wars opens with a scroll and Blade Runner opens with 6 pages of text. We didn’t do that in our film, but there is a lot of information presented in the first four minutes of the movie,” says Kosinski. Though it opens with that establishing monologue, Kosinski wants audiences to know that the movie requires focus to understand. “This is a movie where you really have to pay attention. This isn’t the movie where you can go to the restroom halfway in and come back and be fine because you’re going to miss something. There’s so much information and so many plot points happening all the time that it really requires you to stay engaged.”
2. Sure, it’s sci-fi, but it’s closer to reality than you might think
“The drones are on the surface kind of fighting the war and the humans are in the background keeping the drones up and running. It’s very similar to what’s going on in wars right now. Drones are in the news everyday. The proliferation of these autonomous machines that are doing our espionage and even our war for us — it’s the same world that’s in the movie. It’s not science fiction, it’s happening today,” he says.
3. The awesome looking Bubbleship was modeled after a fighter jet and a helicopter
The Bubbleship (featured behind Tom Cruise in the photo above) was one of the first elements that Kosinski came up with when writing the story. It started with a sketch he drew and ended up being one of the main elements in the film — all 4,200 pounds of it. “It’s kind of blend between a Bell 47 helicopter — one of the first iconic helicopter designs — crossed with the most advanced fighter jet. When you cross a helicopter with a fighter jet, you get a vehicle that’s capable of doing a lot of interesting things. It’s very maneuverable. It has a lot of tricks up its sleeve that you’ll see in the movie, but what I really like about it is the visibility. You get to ride around with Jack. I really wanted it to feel like you’re sitting with Tom Cruise,” Kosinski says.
4. Kosinski is a child of 70s and 80s sci-fi, and he wanted to reference the films he loved
Oblivion may have started out as a comic book (that Kosinski penned himself), but he admits that he wasn’t really into comics while he was growing up. He was more of a movies buff. “It’s a culmination of all those movies I saw as a kid, so everything from Solaris to Star Wars to Silent Running. All of those movies that I saw when I was very young or growing up in the 80s. Even Chris Marker’s La Jetee,” says Kosinski. “I think that’s where stories come from. You kind of take bits and pieces of all the things you were inspired by as a kid and try to recombine them into something original.” He added: “Raiders of the Lost Ark was another huge movie for me. That idea of a smart but capable action hero when I was 7 or 8 years old blew my mind. So Indiana Jones is probably permanently in my DNA. I want every hero in my movies to have some Indiana Jones in them.”
5. Even though the inspirations might be rooted in the past, Kosinski and his crew used every modern technology available to create Oblivion.
Ever the fan of the latest new toy, Kosinski used a number of elements to establish a highly precise look and feel for the film, including IMAX Digital and Dolby Atmos. Working alongside Claudio Miranda (the Oscar-winning cinematographer behind Life of Pi), Kosinski it was important that the film be shot in 2D to really see Jack and Victoria’s glass home that rests 3,000 feet in the sky. “It’s a daylight science fiction film, and 3D is still a much dimmer format than 2D is,” he says. “I also didn’t want to do a blue screen movie. So we kind of found a way to modernize front end projection, which is kind of what Kubrick did in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He projected a high-resolution photograph onto the set and then shot it to make it feel like it was outside. And we did the same thing. We went to the top of Haleakalā Volcano in Maui and shot these super high-resolution plates of clouds with three cameras strapped together, and then we re-projected all that footage around our sets so we were able to capture all those scenes in camera, and the light bounces back in and lights the actors and lights the set. We used a brand new Sony F65 camera and new master prime lenses. That technology has only existed within the last year.” And the result? “It’s a very different apocalyptic world then we’re used to seeing.”
On Monday, EW will take a closer look into Oblivion’s Dolby Atmos experience. Be warned, though, there may be spoilers!