Upon leaving the theatre, he asked, "What did you think?"
I answered, "Now you know the difference between Science Fiction Romance and straight Sci-Fi."
"So a Science Fiction Romance is like...?"
He paused for a minute. "How was Oblivion different from this film?"
That took a bit of thought. At first I was going to say "the hero doesn't die at the end," but then I realized that the hero does die. But in Oblivion, there's a wicked twist that makes it SFR. Something I didn't see coming, which made it all the more fun for the unpredictable HEA.
Elysium, I probably won't watch again. Once was enough. Why?
Depressing Dystopia is not Inspiring
Elysium had some cool tech, including an "open air" space station with luxurious estates and grounds. Everything on the station is lush, pristine and polished. I'm still not sure how future science would pull off the "open air" (or "open space") part, where shuttles didn't even need to bother with docking bays, they just flew straight in for a landing on the inside of Elysium's gargantuan circular structure. Plasma barriers might accomplish that, but then the shuttles would have to have some way of penetrating the barrier, so it didn't appear plasma was the magic, invisible atmosphere envelope. If there was some reference to the science that supposedly allowed this, I missed it.
Oblivion's main characters lived in a sleek, high-tech home in the sky, but for all it's shine and coolness, it was the Earth itself that was most inspiring. The empty wasteland of destroyed monuments and buried architecture gave a sense of lost history via devastating holocaust, rather than a slow decline into grimy ruin of Elysium's world.
Predictability vs. Plot Twist
In order to make it possible, he's turned into a tech-enhanced superhuman, in a scene that made me--and the rest of the audience--cringe and cover their eyes.
The balance of the movie is about the struggle to hijack the data to make the assault on Elysium possible--brutal firefights, explosions, destruction, suicidal villains, heinous wounds and death. There was a tiny hint of romance in the whole scenario that was swallowed up in the relentless cruelty and inhumanity.
Oblivion offered a very different scenario where hero and his sleek technology faced down threats from alien interlopers who skulked in the ruins, had brought on cataclysm by destroying the Moon, and now attempted to tear down what was left of human civilization. Or so it seemed...
Finishing up the final days of his and his female partner's "tour" to service the drones that protect the airborne water processors needed to support the Tet space station orbiting Earth, and a distant colony on the Saturn moon Titan, his duty sometimes brings him into contact with the diabolical alien Scavs. When he's captured by the enemy, everything he's ever believed about the Scavs is challenged.
Theme of Hope vs. Hopelessness
As far as plot, Elysium was straightforward and in-your-face with political statements and rise-of-the-classes conflict. There were no big surprises or mistruths. The action reached monotony in an endless car-crash kind of way. The villain was darkly evil without any real sense of what drove him to his borderline insanity. He was evil just for the sake of evil.
In contrast, I felt Oblivion offered a great bit of mystery and suspense. Despite the hero's super-lux, high-tech habitat, he was fascinated with the ruin of the Earth, the tug of memories just beyond his reach and past events just beyond his understanding. The villains in Oblivion were also dark and violent, until you learned their true nature and that their struggle for survival was more of a noble last stand. The hero's emotional journey was complex and eye-opening as he began to uncover the real truth and that his training and beliefs were all based on falsehoods and propaganda. His changing loyalties were believable and well drawn as he learned the good guys were really soulless bad guys, and the bad guys represented humanity's last hope.
Ultimately, the ending of Elysium left me disappointed and unsettled. After all the bitter struggle, self-sacrifice and the main character's connection to a potential love interest, there was no reward except perhaps that he died a hero. No HEA here. That he "saved" humanity by his actions felt a bit hollow and uninspired.
Oblivion ended with a twist that, although it didn't bring the hero back from the brink...at the same time it did. In a clever and calculated way that left a lot of room for hope. The aha! moments were enlightening and imaginative. Though the plot left a few loose threads, it answered enough questions and solved the big mystery in a way that left me feeling uplifted, not deeply depressed.
For pure, thought-provoking, SF/R entertainment, Oblivion has my vote, hand's down.