Image courtesy of Universal Pictures.
“Oblivion” Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. 124 minutes. Rated PG.
And why did they choose the title “Oblivion”?
Because that’s how long the movie is.
It’s nice to look at, though. And the cast does a credible job. Critics dismiss Tom Cruise as an actor but he’s good – if you saw “Collateral” you’ll know what I’m talking about. Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Melisso Leo carry their weight, with Leo’s part trending toward Clicheland at the end. Morgan Freeman stars as Morgan Freeman.
“Oblivion’s” problem, however, lies in its veneer of a story. Casual science fiction fans will appreciate its sleek look and original ideas. Everybody else will look at those ideas, recognize they’ve been done time and again, and wonder what the fuss was about.
Here’s the story: Mankind has fought and won a war with alien invaders, but in the process they’ve rendered Earth uninhabitable. Everyone has fled to a sanctuary on Saturn’s moon Titan. Left behind are Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Riseborough) who must oversee a fleet of drones that protects giant energy harvesters from scattered remnants of the alien invasion force. In two weeks’ time the harvesters will have collected enough energy to ensure mankind’s future on Titan. But a spacecraft crash lands on Earth and disgorges a crew of preserved human beings, including a woman Jack seems to remember from a former life. He begins to question everything he knows, including his current mission.
“Oblivion” relies on a couple of plot twists to deliver impact and I will not reveal them here. Suffice it to say the first act – no doubt intended as a character-building session by director Kosinski – is excruciatingly long and, dare I say, boring. Things pick up in the second act, and it was here I figured out what was really going on in the movie. The third act was mostly action-packed, though a word of warning: If trailers created the impression “Oblivion” is a grand-scale science fiction epic with sprawling CGI battles, think again. It’s mostly character-driven. Movie fans will recognize influences from “2001,” “Minority Report” and “Gattaca.”
Cruise is effective as the memory-wiped Jack struggling for rapprochement with the images he sees of a wife in a former life. Riseborough, his teammate, successfully evokes a slavish dedication to corporate dictates, at one point reminding Jack it’s their job not to remember. And Kurylenko brings to her role a sweetly devoted innocence that makes her worthy of Jack’s attentions.
Leo’s role, as the administrator of an orbiting station that monitors the drones, is constrained, but she nonetheless brings personality to her exchanges with the Earth-side crew until the very end of the movie, when she devolves into a caricature. Freeman has limited screen time and seems to channel Denzel Washington in “The Book of Eli.”
All of this is not to say “Oblivion” is a bad movie. But it’s not very original, it features long stretches of not much happening, and despite its beauty and the skill of its cast, it won’t create a lasting impression.
Walking from the theater, I asked Del, “What was the last good movie we saw?” We had just watched “Oblivion.”
“Cloverfield,” was the response after a few moments of thought.
Yet, Del has written a merciful review of “Oblivion.”
To be honest, I sympathize to some degree with his reaction. The actors sincerely and skillful portrayed their characters but were unable to subdue the movie’s weak script, clichéd ideas and too many subplots.
“Oblivion” is a sci-fi dystopian chick-flick fairy tale with some action.
Let’s start with the good.
The cinematography was lush and, somehow, sparing at the same time.
The special effects were very good.
Jack’s bubble engine-powered, high-performing V/STOL aircraft with a goldfish bowl cockpit was neat.
The autonomous spherical drones that protected gigantic water vaporizers were menacing despite their shape. Fast, heavily armed and assessing threats through HAL 9000-like sensor eyes, the unmanned combat aerial vehicles intimidated me not because of their role in the movie. They’re what the real mankind-induced future has in store for us.
Finally, there’s what the orbiting space station administrator would say when she finished giving Jack and Victoria their orders: “Are we an effective team?”
It’s exactly what many of us encounter during the course of a workday. A type of corporate cheerleading that’s all enthusiasm and smiles on the surface and brain-washing dogma beneath that reminds workers they better toe the line if they want to keep their jobs. Are you with us or against us?
Now, a few of the weaknesses of “Oblivion.”
Del mentioned that “Oblivion” has similarities with movies that came before it, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Minority Report,” and “Gattaca.” I add “The Matrix,” “Independence Day” and even “Battle: LA” to the list.
Maybe it’s impossible to devise a novel reason that aliens would invade earth. Maybe it’s impossible to end the invasion with other than nuking the mothership from the inside after gaining access to it through implausible deception. But, can’t someone, somewhere try?
“Oblivion” is a complex story. It weaves Jack’s nightmares with suspicions about the truth of his situation. For good measure, there are the battles that he has to fight with “scavs” whenever he has to repair a drone that has crash landed. And, another principal character is fully introduced about half-way into the movie.
Complexity doesn’t have to be bad. The problem is that it can be very tricky to develop as a screenplay. And, in the case of “Oblivion,” it took a long, long time to tie everything together. The effort including introducing a backstory to establish true identities.
As “Oblivion” dragged on, I became bored. Not even the questions that it raised periodically were enough to pull me back from the urge to look at my wristwatch.
I didn’t feel much sympathy for the characters when the movie ended.
And, I was thoroughly irritated by the arrogant dopiness of the lone, star-travelling alien that met its demise by ingesting a human-planted, uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction device. All the being needed was a couple of cloned TSA screeners and an X-ray machine to detect the nuke and it would have been on its way to destroy another planet in just a couple of weeks.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and public information officer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.