Watching the new trailers for Star Trek Into Darkness and Oblivion this week, one may think of Gregg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk. Gillis distilled the essence of the music culture that was already all around him, and channeled it into Girl Talk (Girl Talk’s music is constructed entirely from samples, sometimes very brief, of other music—usually used without license.)
Oblivion does, presumably, have license to use the story from the graphic novel on which it is based, but it also looks to be a pastiche film. This is a tendency, but with Oblivion’s trailer it’s particularly easy to look at and interrogate.
We have some Halo aesthetics and design choices, yielding clothes, guns, ships for Tom Cruise Character (this one is named Jack Harper.) Some dark spaces (almost certainly postindustrial ruins) replete with frisky alien silhouettes, whom exist to be destroyed. We have Morgan Freeman, playing Morgan Freeman Character, and a score standing in, without irony, for Lux Aeterna.
It’s the highest-budget you can expect to see for a collage piece.
This kind of trope-cliché interplay within a genre, the reorganization of beats and genre signifiers into newly functioning stories, is rather the rule. But with something like Oblivion we see not an elaboration or a twist, but rather a distillation. Oblivion is a clarification of tropes. The proof is top to bottom, so you can spot the film’s goal in its poster. The ideal posture has become “genre as camouflage.” A twist would be sacrilege after a trailer like this (a twist in the sense of a genre twist, not a narrative twist. Paradoxically, a narrative twist of a certain size and shape is a must, and is implied in this type of pastiche film: hence the blunt emphasis on memory and conspiracy in the trailer, both in vogue among pastiche films– even, I think, before Inception.)
The risk with increasingly transparent genre distillations: they may offer more pleasure to the marketer than the viewer. Hopefully this is just the calm before the storm for sci fi. A clarification seems, at this particular moment, redundant. For some time now, precisely nothing in the pop sci-fi cinema has begged clarification.
Ditto the Star Trek Into Darkness trailer: an even bolder pastiche. In this case, the score is not standing in for Lux Aeterna, but for the Joker’s Theme which—depending on who you ask—is now either iconic, or embarrassingly obligatory.