When I wrote a piece this last week about how 1970s sci-fi became the golden standard for all other sci-fi films, it was written with the idea of imitation being flattery. Joseph Kosinski's "Oblivion" has obviously taken every element from those 1970s sci-fi classics and blended them into something arguably more intriguing as a whole. But which film does it borrow from the most when the stylistic wave of those '70s sci-fi films more or less started two years early with 1968's "Planet of the Apes."
"Oblivion" seems to take much from 1971's "The Omega Man", which was, in turn, a remake of 1964's "The Last Man on Earth" (based on the Richard Matheson book "I Am Legend"). The reason the 1971 film is singled out here is based solely on its general aesthetic that appeared to influence all others through the 1970s until "Star Wars" changed everything. That particular aesthetic had everything to do with the matte painting depictions of ruins after an apocalypse.
The artisans behind those paintings provided a special quality that made the sight of ruined U.S. landmarks look much more compelling and (dare I say) more real than CGI can. Whether "Oblivion" manages the same through its depiction of the Empire State Building in 2077 is entirely up for your own eyes to decide. Regardless, even if it only gives the essence of those matte paintings, it doesn't stop there in the influence of the "The Omega Man" and the film's particular details.
When the above film came out in 1971, the plot was slightly altered to create underground mutants as the sideline characters rather than zombie-like vampires as Matheson originally intended. The only man to survive intact (Charlton Heston as Robert Neville) is the lone person to interact with these underground mutant rebels. It's a direct connection to what Tom Cruise's Jack Harper does discovering the underground people known as the Scavengers, led by Morgan Freeman.
In that parallel, it's easy to see Tom Cruise emerging as the new Charlton Heston in the sci-fi genre. Heston appeared in several of the most influential sci-fi films ever, all within a six-year span. Similarly, Cruise has starred in at least a couple of the most influential sci-fi films of recent years, most notably the eerily prescient "Minority Report."
So is Matheson's book "I Am Legend" the true catalyst for most of those 1970s sci-fi classics that dealt with the post-apocalypse theme? Based on the "I Am Legend" movie remake with Will Smith and all the other box office excitement for more dystopian sci-fi movies, it may soon be more influential than even "Star Wars." Even if "Oblivion's" ship chasing sequences are straight out of "Star Wars", "The Omega Man" shadow is about to grow taller.
It's the ending of "Oblivion" that may be the most significant nod to those Heston films. Because the ending can't be revealed, merely look at the end of those 1970s sci-fi films for how future post-apocalyptic films will likely structure their endings. As well, the added Rod Serling influenced twists tie everything up into an uncomfortably ironical package.
What's more ironic is that "Oblivion" will likely bring more films like it, hence the 1970s sci-fi feel perhaps surviving to a point where a future last man on earth would still recognize the style.
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