Joseph Kosinski and Claudio Miranda so disliked the extensive use of blue screen mattes in TRON: Legacy (2010) that for this film, they wanted to use real glass, mirrors and shiny surfaces for the glass tower set. The sky footage was projected on a 500x45' screen consisting of 21 monitors, and was filmed for three weeks from the summit of Haleakala volcano in Maui, Hawaii. The rooms with windows were lit by the light from those projections. The monitors took ten technicians several weeks to install and fine tune with floor-level rig support. In the end, the actors complimented the production team for that design to such an extent that Tom Cruise declared that the glass tower was one of his favorite film sets.
The opening scene when the Universal logo appears offers the viewer a quick survey of how damaged the earth is in the film. The Tet is in orbit, the oceans are nearly dry, land masses have craters the size of entire countries, there are no polar ice caps, and even the word Universal appears worn, damaged, and rusted.
The scene of Jack Harper on a precipice watering a small plant was filmed on Earl's Peak in Iceland, 2,000 feet high. The crew had to use helicopters to get people and equipment to the filming location.
Tom Cruise's fiftieth birthday occurred during filming. To celebrate the milestone, director Joseph Kosinski presented him with one of the futuristic motorbikes from the film. Tom also gave Joseph a present of his own: a die-cast model of the bubble ship in a glass case.
Initially, Disney had acquired the rights to Joseph Kosinski's script in a heated auction. However, they later realized that making a PG-rated film based on the script would require a lot of story changes. The rights were subsequently acquired by Universal Pictures.
The painting on the wall showing a woman in a wheat field is titled "Christina's World" and was painted by the American artist Andrew Wyeth in 1948. The woman is based upon a real person who had been partially paralyzed due to polio. Wyeth was inspired to create this art when he saw her crawling across the field.
The whooping alarm heard as Discovery nears the Tet is taken from sounds produced by the TAWS (Terrain Avoidance Warning System) actually used in aircraft. These systems help alert flight crews to impending collisions and other flight problems.
While several drones are featured in the movie, it's Drone 166 that develops an interesting relationship with Jack. First, Jack repairs 166 with a piece of chewing gum. Shortly thereafter, 166 saves Jack's life in the library. 166 then chases Jack through a canyon, culminating in their both winding up in a sand dune, where Jack unplugs 166's power cell -- undoing his chewing gum fix.
The Bubble Ship was inspired by the Bell 47 helicopter which Joseph Kosinski fell in love with when he saw one in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. He likened the design to a dragonfly.
Jack's bike is a Honda CRF450X - chosen for its minimalist design and ability to handle stunts. Its designers hid the exhaust pipes and gave it a tank that held less than 1 liter of fuel, allowing only 20 minutes of ride time.
The sample "ash can" chapter of the novella was first distributed at San Diego Comic Con 2008 for free. The sample eventually ended up at the hands of Tom Cruise, who approached Joseph Kosinski to develop the film and story. Development continued in background while Kosinski was working on TRON: Legacy (2010), with the film and the novella released at the same time to prevent spoilers.
In the flashback scene, the completed new World Trade Center buildings are visible in the background, when Jack holds up the ring in front of the binoculars. This movie was released in April 2013. The first tower was finished in October 2013. According to the story, this scene should take place in early 2017.
There were ten days of location shooting in Iceland, where daylight lasted virtually 24 hours. Joseph Kosinski wanted to make a film that was very much based in daylight, considering that a lot of classic sci-fi movies like Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982) were shot in near darkness.
Jack and Victoria symbolically represent the male and female aspects of nature. The two columns on the portico of King Solomon's temple were the masculine Doric column named Jachin, and the feminine Ionic column named Boaz. Jack "Jachin" symbolizes the male aggression principle (strength, generative force, the blade), and Victoria "Victory" the sacred feminine goddess of nature, like Boaz the Rose (love, beauty, the chalice). Just like Jack and Rose from James Cameron's Titanic. This is why the Tet, a feminine entity associated with Luna the moon, is shaped like an inverted triangle, symbolizing the chalice, the cup, the womb, or the Holy Grail.
The Oblivion project originated as an eight-page treatment written by Joseph Kosinski, which was pitched in 2007 to Barry Levine and Jesse Berger at Radical Publishing, as a graphic novel. The project was subsequently developed into an illustrated novella released to coincide with the film release.
Saturn's moon Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system and the only object other than Earth to contain liquid rivers, lakes, and rain on its surface. Surface temperature is cold: -180 degrees Celsius (-350 Fahrenheit).
The song that plays during Jack's first visit to his house by the lake, (while he lies down on the grass to sleep) is "Ramble On", track seven from "Led Zeppelin II" by Led Zeppelin, first released in 1969.
When tracing the signal to the Empire State Building, the lat/long co-ordinates are shown as 41.14N 73.97W. In reality they should be 40.74N 73.98W. This is either an error, or an indication that an event took place that changed the orientation of the Earth's axis. Reviewing the general state of the place at large, the latter seems probable.
Joseph Kosinski wanted a 4K version release, but budgetary constraints coupled with an additional six weeks post-production work prompted the idea to be abandoned, and the film was finished and released in 2K instead.
The Tet space station may be so named because it is tetrahedral, but considering Tet is also the name for the Vietnamese lunar new year and destruction of the moon in the movie brings about the "new" destroyed earth, the name could be meant ironically.
When Jack first arrives at his private lake house, he puts the "Lays of Ancient Rome" book he retrieved from the ruins of the New York Public Library on top of another book, which is shown to be a copy of the novel "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens. Both works of literature are about people gaining freedom from oppression, fitting in with the theme of the film. "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Oblivion" also both end with a ruse being performed by the main characters.
In the beginning of the film, during Jack's voiceover detailing the war with the Scavs, a destroyed tower structure is visible. This is the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Also seen in this sequence are the ruins of the Cyclone rollercoaster and the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, the Pentagon, Washington Monument, and the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., and an airport half submerged in the ocean with wrecked planes in the water and on land.
The plush gorilla stuffed animal Jack Harper finds in the Empire State Building is King Kong - a giant gorilla that climbs the Empire State Building in the climactic battle of the 1933 film King Kong (1933). This is a common souvenir sold at the Empire State Building.
While Disney was holding the rights, the first draft of the script was written by William Monahan. That draft was ditched when Universal acquired the property. Michael Arndt also did additional uncredited rewrites to Karl Gajdusek's draft. However, Monahan was not credited.
This is the second movie in a row in which Tom Cruise plays a character named "Jack". The first was the title character in Jack Reacher (2012). Much earlier, he portrayed yet another Jack in Legend (1985).
In his review of Oblivion for the National Public Radio program "Fresh Air with Terry Gross," David Edelstein admitted he had such a hard time following the plot of this movie. He'd had to go online for the answers to some of his questions: "Confused? Everything will be made clear. Not in the movie itself, which is the most incoherent piece of storytelling in years, and had me crying, 'What? What?' over the din of the explosions. It was Wikipedia's 'Oblivion' entry that spelled out what was going on in the final flashback. And a few, but not all my complaints, were answered on an IMDB board in which posters argued over whether the problem was our lack of attention spans or atrocious screenwriting."
Early in the film, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) gives Vika (Andrea Riseborough) a play-by-play of the "last Super Bowl", or 2017 Super Bowl. The 2017 Super Bowl (Super Bowl LI) was held on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. This would mean the decayed stadium in which Jack fixes the downed combat drone is Houston's NRG Stadium.
The exclusive premiere at IMAX London took place amid a snow storm that had lasted for over 10 hours, causing traffic problems in the capital. Most of the cast attended, plus several additional guests, such as Dexter Fletcher, Bill Paxton, and James May, who sat behind him.
There are two scenes in this movie that are very similar to Mission: Impossible III (2006). The first is when Jack is in the library retreating. The walkway bridge he used is taken out. He is forced to throw his rifle across first, then jumping over, barely making it, as he pulls himself up. This scene is very similar to Mission: Impossible III. When the drone takes out part of the bridge as Owen Davian is escaping, Ethan throws his rifle across as he jumps over, barely making it, and pulling himself up. The second scene (in Mission: Impossible III) is when Ethan is about to inject Anna with Adrenaline. He grabs her, and says "This is going to hurt", then injects her. A very similar scene was shot in Oblivion, when Jack grabs Julia (after she had been shot, in the desert scene) and says "This is going to hurt", then injects her. Julia is also the name of Ethan's wife in Mission: Impossible III (2006).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
On Drone 166's exterior there is a drawing of a Scav with Jack's decapitated head lying at his feet with the x-eyes that are used in cartoons to show a dead person's head, drawn by the Scavs. This is seen closely in a deleted scene, in which Jack says "lovely" when he sees it.
When Julia is first found, she is in her sleep pod with her maiden name listed "J. Rusakova", someone with no known relationship with anyone else. Later, when Julia awakens by the cabin, she's in Jack's sleep pod with "J. Harper" inscribed on the front, her married name and the one she introduces herself with once the relationship is revealed, or can also be Jack Harper's pod.
Jack is Tech 49, which is the same number as Tom Cruise's age during filming. The tech who finds Julia at the end of the film is Tech 52, which happens three years later when Cruise would be 52 years old.
In the beginning of the film, Victoria and Jack are watching footage of a Scav attack. The black and white footage shows a Scav running from the scene on all fours, like a dog or other animal. When we find out they're humans who run on two feet, this first seems like it wouldn't make sense, until Beech remarks that they move like old stealth fighters, which could run on all fours, on their hands and feet.
The ship originally investigating the Tet was named Odyssey, which alludes to Homer's epic poem and its hero Odysseus. The Greeks win the Trojan War by way of the Trojan Horse, a ruse dreamed up by Odysseus, much like the humans defeat Tet because it allowed him to bring a captive without realizing he is also bringing nuclear weapons. Know that the bomb was brought on board the Test was the Bubble, not the Odyssey
The title and one of the scenes by the lake recall the poem "Eloisa to Abelard" by Alexander Pope, which also provides the title for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", another science fiction movie dealing with themes of memory and forgetting. Julia and Jack are listening to "A Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum, which contains the lines: "One of sixteen vestal virgins/Who were leaving for the coast", and Julia says to Jack, "the world would forget about us". Pope's poem includes the following lines: "Divine oblivion of low-thoughted care!", and later on, "How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!/The world forgetting, by the world forgot./Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!".