Oblivion should be renamed to Unofficial Half-Life/Portal Movie Starring Tom Cruise.
That opening sentence may seem like a joke, but when I watched Oblivion and saw Drone 166 for the first time, my first thought was “Wheatley!” Then when I saw the inside of the Tet I screamed “GLaDOS!” out load at my computer. The more I thought about the movie, the more I realized just how many characters from the Half-Life and Portal games there are in Oblivion. Not only do the characters from the games exist in the movie, but the emotional reactions to each character is the same in the movie as they are in the games.
Jack Harper / Gordon Freeman
The reason Gordon Freeman works is because the player knows nothing about him: he doesn’t speak, he has no backstory, he has no personality. Freeman is an empty vessel that allows the player to place whatever personality they want onto him (unlike other first person shooter characters).
Tom Cruise is a movie star. You know you’re watching a Tom Cruise movie whenever you see Tom Cruise in a movie – he doesn’t get lost in his characters the way some other actors do. But the funny thing about Tom Cruise is, is that even though he is a huge movie star, he’s also somewhat of an empty vessel. Tom Cruise has enough charisma to make you want to continue watching him, but not enough personality to overshadow the action and the plot.
Jack Harper is the quintessential Tom Cruise character in that Jack also has enough charisma to draw your attention but not enough personality to overshadow what’s going on in the rest of the film. Jack is the quintessential generic sci-fi action hero in the way that Gordon Freeman is the quintessential generic first person shooter character.
Sally / GLaDOS
What can I say about how much Sally is GLaDOS… I mean look at them. Oblivion stopped just short of licensing the GLaDOS voice from Valve.
Julia / Chell
The character of Julia could go one of two ways: Chell from Portal or Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2.
I went with Chell from Portal. Mainly because Sally is so intrigued by Julia and wants her brought to the Tet. GLaDOS has no idea who Alyx Vance is, but she certainly knows Chell. So of course Sally would want Julia brought to the Tet – she needs her test subject back!
Drone 166 / Wheatley/Turrets
Drone 166 is a mix of Wheatley from Portal 2 and the Turrets from Portal – having the look and character arc of Wheatley, and the fire power of the Turrets. Both Drone 166 and Wheatley have a character arc of “character the audience thought was an ally to the hero turns out to be evil”.
Drone 166 starts off as a character the audience appreciates as an asset to the hero, just like Wheatley. Drone 166 saves Jack from the Scavs in the library, much like how Wheatley assists Chell in navigating the early testing chambers.
Having won the audience’s and Jack’s trust, Drone 166 attacks the sleeping astronauts in their pods and attacks Jack and Julia while they travel to Jack’s cabin. Once Chell plugs Wheatley into the core for the core transfer, he turns evil: turning GLaDOS into a potato and dropping Chell down a shaft.
The audience starts off liking Drone 166 as an ally to the hero but ends up happy when Jack removes it’s power supply, much the same way the player starts off liking Wheatley as an ally to the hero but ends up happy when Wheatley is flung into space.
Drone 166 perfectly fits the Wheatley character arc and emotional response from the audience.
Beech / Eli Vance
Beech is most definitely the Eli Vance of Oblivion. So much so that they both die at the end of their respective stories.
Beech is the older, wiser character who shows the hero the true nature of the world they inhabit. He helps the hero, guides the hero, and in the end sacrifices himself for the good of the hero’s mission. Eli Vance is the older, wiser character who, in Half-Life 2, shows the hero the mechanics of the world they inhabit – helping him, guiding him, and in the end sacrificing himself for the good of the hero’s mission.
Eli Vance is a character that is written off in Half-Life but becomes an integral part of Half-Life 2, creating just enough of a bond with the audience that makes his death meaningful. Beech is the same way. He’s just kind of there when you meet him the first time but becomes an integral part of Jack’s progression and creates just enough of a bond with the audience to make his death meaningful.
Victoria / Judith Mossman
Judith Mossman is a bitch. I hate to use that word, but there is just something immediately unlikable about her even though she hasn’t done anything terrible yet (and eventually turns out to be good). You just hate her from the moment you meet her in Half-Life 2. Victoria – or Vika, as Jack calls her – is the same way. When you meet her, you instantly dislike her even though she hasn’t done anything to make you hate her yet.
Vika and Judith Mossman occupy a similar role in their respective universes. Vika is the supporter who mostly stays in the background and only kind of helps the hero with his mission. Judith Mossman is a supporter who mostly stays in the background and only kind of helps the hero with his mission.
Vika ultimately turns on Jack while Judith Mossman ultimately helps Gordon Freeman, but their role in their respective universes and the audience’s emotional response to them is the same.
Sykes / Barney Calhoun
There is not much going on with Sykes other than being the generic henchman. Likewise, there is not much going on with Barney Calhoun other than being the generic guard. Both are armed, and both assist the hero and the older smart one who helps the hero. Sykes doesn’t like Jack the way Barney likes Gordon Freeman, but I can live with that. Sykes is a mean Barney.
Aside from Sykes/Barney, the characters in Oblivion even look like the characters in Half-Life and Portal. Just give Tom Cruise glasses and some facial hair and you’ve got Gordon Freeman; Julia could definitely pass for Chell; Beech and Eli Vance look almost identical; and Vika looks just like Judith Mossman.
Their looks are the same, their character arcs are the same, the emotional response from the audience is the same… Oblivion is the Unofficial Half-Life/Portal Movie Starring Tom Cruise.