Film Review – Oblivion
The temptation to name off all the films Oblivion clearly lifts from is strong. Yes, as I watched it, nearly half a dozen other titles popped to mind. Director Joseph Kosinski, along with screenwriters Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, fill this story with visual and plot references that are too familiar to go unnoticed. I will refrain from naming said references in order to keep major secrets hidden. Granted, Kosinski’s direction is apt, the art design impressive, and the performances feel authentic. On a pure surface level, the film is well made, with sufficient entertainment value. The filmmakers come very close to getting away with borrowing recycled ideas, but this seems like it was aimed at an audience that has never seen a science fiction film before. For those that have, I wonder if they’ll be able to shake how unoriginal it is.
Let me tread carefully here. The time is set in the distant future, where an alien invasion and subsequent war decimated the earth. Humans have won the war, but use of nuclear weaponry has left the planet uninhabitable. For those that survived, they now live in a massive space station orbiting the earth, known as the “TET.” Still needing natural resources to survive living in the atmosphere, humans have developed rigs to help gather them up (mostly seawater, for some reason). However, alien beings known as “Scavs” still roam the wasteland, and pose a danger to the rigs. To help protect them, powerful drones were created to hunt and destroy the Scavs. As weapons of destruction, the drones are powerful killing machines. Circular shaped and sporting fully automatic weaponry, the drones’ sole purpose is to obliterate, and they do so at a high rate of efficiency.
You would think that technology—being so advanced as it is—would be able to repair itself. Unfortunately not, and that is where we meet our main character, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). Jack is a repairman, whose job is to fix damaged drones. He lives in a floating glass house with his partner/lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and only travels to the surface when on duty. Both Jack and Victoria have been stationed together for some time, and as we are introduced to them, we learn that they have only two weeks left before they can return to the TET. However, on a routine patrol, Jack comes across a crashed spacecraft, with only one survivor, a mysterious woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko). Julia’s introduction is the starting point, eventually leading Jack to call into question everything he once thought to be true.
Have I said too much? I want to keep my description of the plot as vague as possible, because any tiny detail would unravel everything. The success of the film rides on how much the audience is willing to buy the twists and turns in store for them. There are quite a few surprises, and if you step back and examine them from a distance, they do appear somewhat silly. Luckily, any absurdity is masked by an effective production.
I’ve developed into a bit of a Tom Cruise defender. Whether or not you like him, you can’t say that he doesn’t step into a role with 100% commitment. Melissa Leo is also memorable in the small role of Sally, Jack’s and Victoria’s contact aboard the TET. Her robotic, telemarketer-like delivery had me chuckling. Morgan Freeman unfortunately gets the short end of the stick here playing Beech, leader of a band of human renegades. This was an opportunity for Freeman to step away from those wise-old-man characters he normally plays, but the script sadly does not give him enough to work with.
As for the direction, I liked how Kosinski and his crew developed this world. Remnants of the past pop up underneath rubble and dirt. One particularly striking image is of the Empire State Building being nearly buried, with only its very top exposed. The action set pieces, while noticeably made with CGI, are rendered well enough to be believable, especially the drones, which appear to have weight and presence within scenes. While the set and prop design has a level of coherence and consistency, one misstep was the soundtrack. The booming and thumping music becomes an endless distraction, exposing itself all throughout. Even the more subtle scenes are accompanied with overly aggressive music.
But the biggest fault with Oblivion is how it fails to provide its own voice. Informed viewers will call out how derivative much of it is, and that is a problem if you’re trying to make something people will remember. In terms of simply being engaging for a two-hour span, it does accomplish that, but it had the potential to be more. Great sci-fi movies use their premises to comment on current social issues, or pose philosophical questions on human nature. This film takes its material and simply molds it into a medium quality video game—one you’ve already played before.
Final Grade: B-