Movie Review: "Oblivion"
Rating: PG-13 (violence, strong language, nudity)
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: April 19, 2013
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Stars: 3.5 out of 5
Hollywood and moviegoers can't seem to get enough of end-of-the-world movies. From disasters to futuristic dystopias, the idea of a future in peril seems to resonate with people everywhere. Director and writer Joseph Kosinski has created such a world in his ambitious film "Oblivion." The script is based on Kosinski's graphic novel, and it was adapted by screenwriters Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn.
In this future story, humans have left Earth due to environmental disasters, which were caused by alien attackers' destruction of the Moon. Although humanity prevails in the war for survival, most of the population is wiped out due to severe famine, climate change, and nuclear fallout. Survivors live aboard the spaceship Tet, hoping to migrate to Titan-one of Saturn's moons. Technically, only two people are left on Earth; their mission is to strip the planet of any remaining resources and to protect and repair their drones.
Tom Cruise plays the everyman character Jack Harper, who isn't so happy with his line of work, unlike his complacent partner cum lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Part of his problem is that he has vivid dreams that make him feel like the Earth-destroyed for all intents and purposes over seventy years ago-is his home. A secret is soon unveiled after they are visited by a strange woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who crashes on the planet. Jack's life is changed forever when he discovers a group of humans led by Beech (Morgan Freeman), a sage-like older man quite fond of steampunk-style goggles and cigars of mysterious origin. The story develops along two parallel lines, but both end on a rushed and convergent note.
Cruise slides well into this role, which is reminiscent of his "Top Gun" days, due to his outlaw behavior and unrelenting desire to uncover the truth. The chemistry with his opposite, Victoria, is a little less than convincing, although Riseborough skillfully fleshes out a character who is underwritten. Kurylenko brings the required mystery element to Julia, while Morgan Freeman's small part as the wise old man who knows more than everyone else is a bit too familiar. Surprise delight is found in the much-too-short scenes that feature Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("Game of Thrones") and stunt actress Zoe Bell as resistance fighters.
Joseph Kosinski is no stranger to the construction of ambitious and visually stunning science-fiction worlds; his prior project was none other than "TRON: Legacy." Yet, his style focuses more on those worlds than on the characters, and many science-fiction fans prefer a balance between the two. The film is a visual treat from the outset; the audience gets a good view of the amazing glass tower where Jack and Victoria live. Moments of quiet awe are derived from the visages of humanity's landmarks, such as the New York Public Library, which are literally buried by the sands of time. The Empire State Building is eclipsed by the rocky peaks of a new mountain range. The future is terrible, yet the audience is drawn into this brave new world. Special effects mastery is certainly the strong suit of the film's visionary creator. It is also a testament to the talent of the film's cinematographer, Oscar winner Claudio Miranda ("Life of Pi"). The movie's soundtrack is reminiscent of a 1980s symphonic score. Some may compare this work of M83 to the soundtrack for the dystopian classic "Blade Runner."
It is always difficult to make science fiction successful on a large scale, especially when it seems everything has already been done. Although "Oblivion" employs common tropes-it pays homage to dystopian predecessors-the movie gives its own unique flavor to the genre. The film contains elements of classics such as "Star Wars," "Star Trek," and Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey." However, the film's vision of a destroyed moon as a viable cause of humanity's demise is interesting to contemplate. An audience member could get drawn into the world, but the rushed climax of this story shows a deep need for more time on the narrative. It's such a pretty playground with so little time to play in it. Kosinski is a master artist, but his storytelling has room for improvement.
For those seeking a totally logical plot, this film may not fit the bill. While watchable and entertaining, the movie may make some viewers wish the story element had more to it. Even so, this lack of deep narrative benefits those moviegoers who are seeking to get lost in moments of contemplation juxtaposed with the best that modern effects have to offer. In this regard, "Oblivion" is a winner.