Oblivion tells the post-apocalyptic story of a veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources after an alien attack renders the planet uninhabitable. However, he soon begins to question what he knows and sets out on a journey to find out more about his mission and himself. It’s a big-budget blockbuster film with a thrilling plot, full of twists, turns and jaw-dropping surprises, starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood (including Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman). For director, screenwriter and producer Joseph Kosinski, it’s a dream come true. Oblivion is based on Kosinski’s graphic novel of the same name. Tribute spoke with the 39-year-old filmmaker to find out how he made a world in his head become a reality, what it was like working with Tom Cruise, and what special features fans can expect from its Blu-ray release.
What was it like creating this original story of Oblivion from scratch?
It’s a fulfilling experience. It’s an eight year project. I wrote the initial story in 2005 and now over eight years later it’s coming out on Blu-ray, which will essentially be the definitive version of it. And it feels good to be at the end of the process but it was a lot of fun, it was really a dream-come-true project.
What was it like working with big names like Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman – what did they bring to the project?
Tom is a type of actor who gets a movie like this made in the first place. Oblivion is not based on a pre-existing property so I knew I needed someone like him, a huge movie star, to kind of get the movie made in the first place. So when Tom became interested in this movie, that really made it possible to make the film, which is invaluable. But he’s also an incredible actor and I knew I needed that for this movie because Jack Harper is basically in every scene of this film, and sometimes more than one [Jack], and I needed an actor like him to pull those scenes off. While we were working on it, Tom and I agreed the dream actor for the character of Beech would be Morgan Freeman and we were both so thrilled when they sent Morgan the script and he wrote back almost immediately that he was in. That was such a thrill because Morgan and Tom had been looking for something to work on together for years and I was happy it got to be my film.
Why did you choose Iceland as the place to shoot on location?
Iceland is such a uniquely beautiful country. It’s a volcanic island, so it has black sand; there are no trees there, but there’s this kind of moss that clings to the hillside because it’s so far in the northern hemisphere in the summer, the sun doesn’t really ever set. So we were shooting there in June and we just got the most beautiful light from 6 p.m. till midnight. So a lot of the scenes you see in the film that look like daylight were actually shot in the middle of the night. And I just found it to be this stunningly beautiful landscape with so much variety. When I saw pictures of it I knew that’s where I wanted to shoot this film.
It must be a director’s dream to have so many hours in the day to shoot.
Yeah we could just shoot forever and the light was just absolutely gorgeous. So yeah, it is kind of a dream place for shooting.
You adapted a really unique technique for the sky tower set, can you explain where that idea came from and how you came about implementing it?
It’s a technique that Stanley Cooper used in 2001 in the opening sequence with the apes, he projected still photographs onto the set to give that lighting effect, and my cinematographer Claudio and I, we had done Tron together, which had a lot of blue screen on it, we always talked about a way to get beyond a blue screen and do something different. So we came up with this idea of projecting, not still photographs like Cooper did, but moving video on a giant screen that would surround the sky tower set. So we had to figure out where we could get footage from 10,000 feet above the ground, it’s almost like an airliner type view. And I was on vacation in Maui and had driven up to the top of a volcano there called Haleakalā, it was the perfect setting to shoot this footage. So we sent a film crew there for a week to shoot sky, clouds, stars, all that footage and then reprojected it on the screen that surrounded the set to create that effect. And thank God it worked because it definitely was a bit of a science experience.
This film is definitely about the stunning visuals, how did you go about creating this world? Did it come out just like you pictured it in your head?
Yeah, you know I had a couple years to think about it. I had seen images of Iceland, I had done some illustrations on my own when I wrote the story of the sky tower and the Empire State Building sticking out of the sand, so I had kind of those key images in my head. And for whatever reason I knew I wanted to do this kind of daylight science fiction film, which is something I hadn’t seen in a long time. And this juxtaposition of future technology set against this rugged landscape to me felt like what the world of Oblivion should look like and what looked different than anything else out there. So whatever reason the world was really clear in my head and it was just a matter of getting it on the big screen.
What is it about science fiction that draws you in as opposed to other genres?
Well, I think science fiction you can explore really interesting ideas in a way you can’t in other genres, you can ask really big questions, you know fundamental questions like why are we here? And what’s the purpose of all of this? What is it that makes us who we are? Those kind of questions you can ask in science fiction and I think you can tell stories because we’re always telling the same kind of stories over and over but science fiction allows us to tell those stories in a new way and take people to another world, which is what I always like when I go to the movies.
For this particular Blu-ray release you’ve stated that this is your first time doing a commentary for it. How was the experience?
It was fun. It’s basically Tom and I talking about a lot of the issues we were discussing while making the film. So I think for people who are interested in how films are made and maybe understanding a little bit more the concepts behind the film, it’d be interesting for them to listen to the kind of issues we were talking about. There’s a lot of stuff we did on this DVD that I’m excited about. We were able to include deleted scenes that I wasn’t able to put in the theatrical version, we have four or five documentaries on the making of the film and I was able to do a score-only version for people who are big fans of the music of M.8.3, they’re going to be able to watch the movie with just the music playing. So I was able to do a couple things I always wanted to do on this Blu-ray.
Is there any possibility for a sequel?
I don’t know. I feel like the movie is a nice single piece, it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and kind of ties the story up nicely. If anything I think the one area that to me would be interesting to explore would be the events before the movie happens. The story of the invasion in 2017, that is referred to in the film, that to me would be an interesting area to explore if we ever did another one.
What I noticed was that this film was very “human-centered,” why did you keep the extra-terrestrial part to a minimum?
I met with a group of scientists at the beginning of this project just to talk to them about what our first encounter with an alien life form would be like. After my discussion with them, I came to the conclusion that it’s going to be more like it is depicted in Oblivion than depicted in other films where these kind of green beings come down and either want to be friends or fight. The truth is any life form that’s going to be able to travel the distance necessary to come to earth and survive the length of time required to make such a journey are probably not going to be organic. They’re probably going to be digital as shown in the movie. So for me it just felt like a more realistic depiction of what that encounter might actually be like.
What’s next for you, what are you currently working on?
I’m working on six or seven things right now, which is kind of what you have to do as a director. It’s always important to keep as many balls in the air as you can. A lot of projects I’m excited about, but nothing official to announce as of yet.
No Tron sequel that you could tell us about?
That’s one of the things we’re working on but that’s still in early stages. ~Naomi Leanage