Oblivion | 2013
The complicated sci-fi plot is done no favours by the incomprehensibly mumbled dialogue, which means you’ll probably need subtitles to follow what’s going on. The film does, though, look fantastic.
It’s 2077, and nasty aliens have destroyed our moon. With the earth rendered uninhabitable by the ensuing cataclysm, two remaining inhabitants, Jack and Vika (Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough), are doing a bit of last minute clearing up before joining the rest of the human race’s alternative accommodation on Titan, the moon of Saturn.
The scope of the film called for huge studio sets, which were built at Louisiana’s largest studio facility, the Celtic Media Centre, 10000 Celtic Drive in Baton Rouge, a 30-acre site which houses some 150,000 feet of stage space.
Here, the interior of ‘New York Public Library’ (the building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, seen at the beginning of Ghostbusters) was recreated on the enormous Stage 4, and hung with 12 three-tiered chandeliers, each mounted with 50 handmade “wooden light bulbs” (whatever they are).
The ‘Skytower’ home of Jack and Vika, perched 3,000 feet above Earth’s surface in the troposphere, was also built in the studio. To ensure perfect sky reflections, and also to help the actors feel the open space they’re supposed inhabit, director Joseph Kosinski avoided the standard green-screen technology in favour of old-school front projection techniques similar to those used by Stanley Kubrick in the 'Dawn of Man' sequences for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Haleakala, meaning ‘House of the Sun’, is a massive shield volcano, forming more than three-quarters of the island. Its tallest peak, Pu’u ’Ula’ula (Red Hill), stands 10,023 feet above a massive crater some seven miles across, two miles wide and nearly 2,600 feet deep. It’s claimed that most of the island of Manhattan could fit into this depression, with the top of its tallest skyscrapers disappearing beneath the rim. For an unforgettable experience, get up early to watch the sunrise over the crater.
In this bleak environment, Jack is troubled by the recurring dream of a bustling, pre-war Empire State Building in New York. Although the Empire State’s gift shop, as well as the NY hotel room, were both recreated in the studio, exteriors were actually filmed in the southwest corner of the Empire State’s 86th Floor Observation Deck, and at the landmark’s entrance below at 350 5th Avenue.
The ‘Raven Rock’ hideout of the previously undiscovered human survivors, led by Beech (Morgan Freeman) and Sykes (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was shot inside the six-acre Market Street Power Plant on the Mississippi River, South Peters Street at Market Street in the Lower Garden District, just south of the Crescent City Connection. Built in 1905, the plant was was closed down in 1973, now providing the perfect backdrop of rust and industrial decay.
For decades, the human survivors and alien scavengers have kept clear of the deadly ‘radiation zone’, though as every fan of sci-fi movies will know, these places are never as deadly as they’re supposed to be.
The ‘zone’ was filmed at man-made sand dunes on Thompson Creek, west of St Francisville, on the Mississippi about 35 miles northwest of Baton Rouge. This area has previously provided desert locations for Jonah Hex and GI Joe: Retaliation.
The ‘Odyssey’ crash site was another, set built on industrial land on the north side of Hooper Road, north of Baton Rouge.
More expansive landscapes of the devastated earth were filmed in Iceland, over an intensive 10-day shoot.
The devastated football stadium was filmed in Hrossaborg, a 10,000-year-old crater shaped like an amphitheater, 30 miles from Lake Mývatn, a two-hour drive from Akueyri. VFX were used to fill the barren landscape with stadium seats and a tunnel entrance to the field.
In the Jokulheimar district of the Icelandic Highlands, a region known for its black sand, the postwar version of the Empire State Building observation deck was constructed. Here, Kosinski’s crew also shot Jack riding his Moto Bike across the unusual landscape.
An aerial helicopter captured other sequences, including at the notorious volcano Eyjafjallajökull, which belched out the ash cloud that brought European air traffic to a standstill for a week in April 2010.
The vertiginous cliff, atop which Jack sits to survey the world, is Earl’s Peak (Jarlhettur), not far from the famous Gullfoss waterfall.
Back in the USA, Jack’s idyllic rustic retreat was built on the shore of June Lake, west of I-395 between Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining within the Inyo National Forest in Central California. On this property are several vacation cabins that date back to the early 20th century, including one owned in the late 1930s by director Frank Capra. The film’s Production Notes claim that Capra’s ancestors still enjoy vacationing in this spot today, but that sounds a little scary. I prefer to believe they’re his descendants.