‘Oblivion’ review, plus thoughts on Hollywood’s business model

Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in Oblivion movie
Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Tried watching Oblivion, this year’s futuristic sci-fi blockbuster starring Tom Cruise, but it wasn’t until the third try that I succeeded in watching it to the end. The first hour dragged — they shouldn’t have taken so long for the buildup — and was therefore boring. Which is a pity, because the concept itself, once the plot is revealed, is interesting. The production design is also beautiful — the glass tower set and the bubble ship is a gorgeous piece of work.


But American audiences are either getting tired of all these sci-fi action movies (Elysium, starring Matt Damon in another futuristic society, did badly in the US as well), or they aren’t interested in Tom Cruise anymore, or they didn’t think the movie was that great; because Oblivion didn’t recoup its budget in the US. The foreign takings more than made up for it though, which shows that Tom Cruise is still a box-office draw overseas, whatever the movie happens to be. (You can see that pattern in most of his other movies over the past decade actually — underperforming or just scrapping by domestically, but being boosted by their overseas earnings, including Jack Reacher, Knight & Day, Valkyrie, Lions for Lambs, Mission: Impossible III, The Last Samurai, and even Minority Report.)

I’m beginning to really comprehend why Hollywood works the way it does. No wonder they expand such effort and money in getting their stars to do overseas promotions for blockbusters, even though it is expensive to fly them out there; why they pay the top-rated, household names in the double-digit million figures even though they are getting older; why they can’t find younger replacements so easily. You can ask a random person on the street in China or India and they will know who Tom Cruise is, or Will Smith is, or even Robert Downey Jr. — famous as he has gotten in the past five years for Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes — and they will go and watch movies that they are in, because they trust in their brand name. But they won’t necessarily know who Chris Hemsworth is, or Bradley Cooper, or Jennifer Lawrence, even though they are A-listers in the US. And when Hollywood makes blockbusters, they really are targeting the masses, the average person on the streets who just wants an afternoon of escapist fun; not so much the film critics or the more discerning moviegoer (though if they catch those segments of the audience as well, all the better).

Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko at the Tokyo premiere of 'Oblivion'
Tom Cruise and Olga Kurylenko at the Tokyo premiere of Oblivion

Damn, I do so badly want to work in Hollywood and be a decision maker in this business. I want to green-light promising films, see and understand how they do their budgeting (why do visual effects cost so much money? How are the cast and crew paid and does it actually factor into the production budget, and if that’s so, how can some stars cost about a third of the production budget?), how they calculate their profits, how they put a project together. Above all, I want to be the sort of producer that gives the director absolutely free reign, within the budget, and then drop by only to see how my money is being spent and to take care of the pesky pragmatic details so that the creative side can do their job.

Yeah. Megan and David Ellison are actually my role models for the kind of producer I would love to be. Unfortunately, as I am not the daughter of a billionaire, I will have to find some other way if those dreams are to come true.