Review: Oblivion (2013)



Joseph Kosinski
Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (Comic Book: Joseph Kosinski, Arvid Nelson)
124 min.
Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity

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As frequently as the world has been destroyed by alien invaders, it’s hard to find a feasible concept that hasn’t already been done. Instead of trying, Oblivion cribs as many of its ideas as possible from others and leaves behind a visually magnificent, but emotionally vacant story.

Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a maintenance worker left behind to care for the various machines that his forbears have left behind to harvest the earth’s remaining resources before flying off to a moon of Saturn where the remaining refugees of his civilization have taken as their home. Assisting him is Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), Jack’s communications officer and lover. She acts as the facility’s liaison to Mission Control within the final human ship waiting in space.

Jack’s memories haunt him, a last vestige of a long-destroyed civilization. He cannot seem to rationlize the distant past his mind keeps remembering and the post-apocalyptic future in which he lives. As he explores a crash site in his patrol sector, Jack discovers a series of life pods, one of which contains the woman from his vision (Olga Kurylenko). Shortly thereafter, he meets a band of resistance fighters led by the aging Malcom Beech (Morgan Freeman) who advises Jack that the events taking place on planet Earth are far different from what they appear.

Director Joseph Kosinski who co-wrote the unpublished graphic novel on which the film is based may have been the wrong choice to direct the film. Apart from his stunning visual style, employed first in Disney’s TRON: Legacy, Kosinski is too emotionally tied to the piece to provide the necessary critical eye the film deserves. Wanting to have another visually stunning film on his record, Oblivion is gorgeous with refine textures and inventive futuristic elements. The special effects are superb, but in his desire to create a world of insurmountable beauty, he left even the darkest and dingiest elements a bit too crisp. You could take any one of the band of resistance fighters and put them on the cover of a fashion magazine and have them celebrated for their chic, grungy look.

Even with stellar production design, Oblivion seem to be all veneer an no substance. Focusing on duplicating a litany of big screen inspirations like Independence Day, Moon and, surprisingly, The English Patient, Kosinski doesn’t seem interested in carving out a unique voice for himself. As with TRON Legacy, he largely stands on the shoulders of giants without creating a work that surpasses their skill. Copying an admired work isn’t in itself a negative, but failing to give your film definition that goes beyond what has already been seen, you become prone to criticisms of duplication and unoriginality.

That lack of originality also enables the audience to guess every step you attempt to make. After the first thirty minutes of expository eloquence, the screenplay shifts into predictability mode, telegraphing each plot turn and twist that approaches. A little bit of foresight can be a handy tool, but when every moment of the film’s last two hours can be easily guessed from the presentd information, you struggle to retain your audience’s engagement. And when even your climax and denouement are as expected, you clearly don’t understand the concept of foreshadowing versus forewarning.

Cruise has a handful of excellent performances under his belt, but when he does action movies, he engages his autopilot and while there’s nothing intrinsically bad about doing such, there’s no reason to applaud his work. Cruise knows how to carry an action film and while his performance in Minority Report is a clear exception to his autopilot tendency, Oblivion is every bit expected as one can imagine. Melissa Leo’s work isn’t terribly impressive and Morgan Freeman does what he does best and that’s not precisely acting. Kurylenko isn’t terribly interesting, but Riseborough makes a much more suitable romantic interest for our protagonist.

Oblivion has admirable elements and will please those who aren’t expecting something deeper; however, science fictino has always had the duty of commenting on modern society using futuristic settings to say what might otherwise be too controversial. Oblivion doesn’t have much of a sociological or political backbone and seems more interested in entertaining than informing. While that isn’t a bad thing, it’s not what I expect out of my sci-fi, so if you’re like me, see it for the spectacle, ignore it for its lack of commentary.
Oscar Prospects
Guarantees: None
Probables: Visual Effects
Potentials: Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Unlikelies: Original Score, Art Direction, Costume Design, Makeup
Review Written
April 23, 2013

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