Film Review – Oblivion

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Year: 2013

Country: USA

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Writers: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt, Joseph Kosinski

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough

 

“I want mankind to survive. This is the only way.”

Tom Cruise. Sci-fi. Expensive blockbuster.

Such words don’t exactly pull together into any kind of meaningful or inspiring concept, do they? Though understandable, any such negative assumptions about this being just the latest in a long line of soulless vehicles for the Cruise brand should be quickly forgotten.

Oblivion is neither a classic nor a catastrophe; it is simply an all-round solid piece of work. Though such a lukewarm statement isn’t likely to have mindless consumer drones stampeding into badly stocked DVD stores (they still exist right?) it should be enough to grab the attention of science fiction fans. After suffering through years mired in disappointing sci-fi blockbusters such a prospect should be cherished rather than so readily passed over as many people no doubt did. Not that you’d be encouraged to give it a chance from the cliche riddled synopsis…

It’s the future and mankind has been annihilated by a bunch of typically bastard-like aliens known charmingly as Scav’s. After deploying nukes in a desperate last defense, humanity succeeded in repelling the invaders at the cost of everything, The land is poisoned and most of the population have been wiped out, the few survivors having buggered off to the safety of Jupiter’s ice moon Titan leaving behind our hero as a kind of inter planetary Janitor. Atop a mountain peak overlooking the nuclear wasteland below Cruise and his missus enjoy a solitary life maintaining gigantic machines which convert the oceans into electricity and indulge in the occasional spot of exhibitionist hot tub sex.

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OK so it isn’t Arthur C Clark – actually that isn’t entirely true because most of the ideas in Oblivion have been robbed from various science fiction sources and at least a few of them are lifted from 2001. Generally this isn’t a problem as the pieces do come together to form an interesting, if not entirely original, whole. But it can be difficult to ignore the major plot development and its obvious similarity to a recent and acclaimed sci-fi film (so similar even naming it would ruin the entire plot).

Visually Oblivion is one of the sharpest films to make liberal use of green screen and CGI effects. The futuristic machines and desolate backgrounds blend seamlessly with the real life elements, even the action scenes looking natural rather than obvious layers which so often break the illusion. The menacing killer drones in particular are an example of the impressive work. The effects team have done such a good job they allow the director to show off with some fantastically elaborate lighting effects and set design. Throughout the design there are strong signs that hit video game worlds such as Mass Effect and Portal have had more influence on Oblivion than the more common styles found in other sci-fi films, giving it a striking and strangely realistic feel. One or two minor ideas descend into the cheap end of sci-fi tropes, such as a toy like motorbike, along with the obligatory awful shades Cruise seems to have written into his contract, but these things hardly detract from what is visually a superior experience.

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Cruise and his overly glamorous costars all do a fine enough job with the bland minimalist characters but that clean cut face and its sickeningly cheesy grin are at times too familiar to look past. It’s hard to avoid the thought that a more credible actor, easier to take seriously, would have given the story a bit more edge. An unintentionally comical cameo from a Morgan Freeman who can hardly keep his face straight is the only real decent into the low end of sci-fi.

Though an enjoyable ride Oblivion ultimately fails to make the most of its ambiguous plot developments. Many cliched and overworked plot devises are used straight from the opening to make it clear that something is amiss and a major twist/revelation is inevitable (dreams, memory wipes) but the pay off just isn’t enough to justify their overstated presence. In the end the intriguing mystery is resolved in a familiar fashion with ideas drawn from a number of recent sci-fi classics in both cinema and video games.

Had the incredible visuals and decent acting been combined with a more punchy idea this could of been an unexpected genre classic. Instead it is a worthy contender.

Rating:

7.5/10

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