Review: Oblivion

I wish Hollywood would make more movies like Oblivion.  That’s not to say that Oblivion is great, but just that it’s the sort of film that feels like it has been abandoned lately.  The current state of the science fiction film genre consists of either indie dramas like Moon or Another Earth, or big budget spectacles that turn out to be pretentious messes like Prometheus or Inception, with a special category set aside for superhero movies.  (One of the few exceptions is Super 8.)  However, Oblivion is the sort of sci-fi movie I love.  It’s got an interesting plot and setting, great effects, a good cast and stellar visuals.  It may fail somewhat on the execution, but I have to give them full credit for the attempt.

We’re told it’s 2077, approximately 60 years after Earth was attacked by aliens.  Humanity fought back and won but only by using nuclear weapons, sacrificing the planet in order to survive.  The surviving population fled to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, leaving behind a bunch of fusion reactors which hover over the oceans and convert the seawater into power for the people of Titan.  We’re told all of this by Jack Harper, a maintenance man who repairs the drones that protect the reactors from the alien remnants still alive on Earth, called Scavs.

Jack seems to have a pretty good life.  He lives above the clouds near New York City, in a penthouse out of some sort of Apple-inspired fantasy.  He’s not alone, either, but works as an effective team with his lover Victoria, who communicates with the space station orbiting Earth to help protect the planet and coordinate the reactors.  Jack and Victoria are just two weeks from the end of their 5 year tour on Earth, when they will be allowed to return to Titan.  Victoria can’t wait, but Jack has reservations.  You see, they both had their memories wiped before starting their tour, as a security precaution, and Jack has been having dreams of his life before, including a mysterious woman.  He also has grown attached to Earth, spending his free time hiding in a cabin on the surface by a lake, reading books, listening to records and playing basketball.

One day while out repairing drones, Jack intercepts a beacon, and is ordered to investigate by Sally, their mission controller on the space station.  He shuts it off presuming it to be something from the Scavs and leaves, only to be shocked when a spaceship crashes at the coordinates transmitted by the beacon.  It lands in an area that he’s been told contains deadly radiation, but he disobeys orders and enters anyway.  As he cautiously approaches, he discovers several humans in stasis, one of whom is the woman from his dreams.

To say any more would be to enter spoiler territory, which would be a shame in such a plot-intensive movie.  I’m actually impressed by how few of the twists and turns were kept from the trailer, which is rare these days.  I call Oblivion plot-intensive because the plot is really all that drives the film forward.  It’s a solid plot, even if most of the surprises are never really shocking, but there is little time left over for character.  The acting is good, and the small leading cast of Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, and Melissa Leo all make the most of the parts they’re given.  Cruise has always been a very physical actor, in the vein of Steve McQueen, and the way he carries himself and interacts with the world around him has always been something I’ve admired.

The characters don’t get much of a chance to grow, however, since there’s so much to cram into two hours.  The character beats are never given a chance to breathe, and as such it’s hard to relate to them.  So while the film may be interesting to follow, and often gorgeous to look at, it’s never particularly emotional.  This is a shame, because I really like a lot of what writer/director Joseph Kosinski has done.

His visual style is particularly effective (continuing the great work he did with Tron: Legacy), contrasting the slick, sterile living quarters of Jack and Victoria with the warm and earthy cabin and the ruins of pre-war Earth.  An early scene has Jack repairing a drone in a ruined football stadium, where the last Super Bowl was played, and Jack recreates the final moments from his memory.  It’s a scene that is both well filmed and acted and I wish there were more moments like that in the movie.  The effects are top notch, despite Oblivion costing half of other comparable big movies.

I said I wish there were more movies like Oblivion for two reasons.  First, as I said, I love movies of this type, and I enjoyed Oblivion despite its faults.  But secondly, if more movies like this were made, the competition for box office dollars would drive the quality up.  Just like the rash of superhero movies led us eventually to The Avengers and Iron Man 3, so too could a slew of true sci-fi films lead us from the good-but-not-great Oblivion to the stars.  Especially if Joss Whedon eventually gets involved.

B+

4 thoughts on “Review: Oblivion

  1. Pingback: Review: Oblivion | Love Pirate's Ship's Log | Pirate Ships

  2. Pingback: Trailer Tuesday: Interstellar, Godzilla, Jupiter Ascending and Edge of Tomorrow | Love Pirate's Ship's Log

  3. Pingback: Trailer Tuesday: Transcendence | Love Pirate's Ship's Log

  4. Pingback: Review: Edge of Tomorrow | Love Pirate's Ship's Log

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