Directed, produced, and co-written by Joseph Kosinski, ‘Oblivion’ is a new film that borrows heavily from other Science Fiction films but brings them to the screen with well-crafted special effects. Sixty years after a costly war with aliens, two people mop up the Earth before it is to be abandoned. The back-story is complex but it takes an hour to get going. As usual Tom Cruise seems carefully to select a role that has more action than character.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
In 2077, it has been six decades since humans won a war against invading aliens and, since that time, the after-effects of the war have left Planet Earth uninhabitable. Most remaining humans are being moved to a colony on Titan.
Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise) is one of the few humans left on the earth. He maintains the drone robots that in turn maintain what is left of the planet. Where Jack does not have the tools he needs he improvises with things like chewing gum to keep complex machinery together and he defends the security. This involves protecting his turf from invading Scavs – alien scavengers. But who they are and what they want, Jack does not know.
Jack asks very few questions. He just knows that he and his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are what their superiors call ‘an effective team’. This means that Jack seems to go through about six nearly fatal brushes with death every day and somehow always comes through safely. Nobody seems to know or care the dangers Jack faces, but they do know his team is effective.
As part of his payment, Jack lives in an exquisite home high over the desert that used to be New York City. If it seems surprising that someone with so menial a responsibility has been given so beautiful a home, it will seem even more so by the end of the film.
Meanwhile, the humans live in a tetrahedral space station above the Earth. They hose up seawater that will be used as an energy source for the distant Titan colony. (Seawater is a source of energy?) The back-story remains undeveloped for the first half of the film but Jack has some more surprises coming that will be revealed in the fullness of time.
Wearing the hats of the producer, the director, and the co-writer, Joseph Kosinski helms his second film; the first was ‘Tron: Legacy’. The CGI here is sumptuously applied making it a film you want to look at if not necessarily one you will want to sit through a second time. White seems a dominant color theme in the home platforms and the flying aircraft. There are many scenes to dazzle and distract from a script that is really a lot of warmed over sci-fi devices from other films. ‘Oblivion’ is something of a chimera of a film pieced together from so much that is borrowed. A major part of the plot seems to be taken from one specific Science Fiction film. [Telling you which film would be a spoiler, but it featured actor Robin Chalk.]
As with most of Tom Cruise’s roles, he poses fairly dramatically but has little real acting to do. His dialog (and monologue) is contrived to make him sound cool and his props like a foldaway motorcycle make him look nifty. But it really takes more than that to do more than pose. His strongest emotions are resolve and occasional bewilderment. To do some much needed humanising the script has him decorate his aircraft with a Bobblehead he imaginatively calls Bob. Needless to say, it takes more than that to create a character.
Morgan Freeman shows up in the second half of the film and with the Science Fiction background he had an opportunity to add new dimensions to his acting. He passes up that opportunity. Freeman knows the character his fans want him to be and he delivers that character once again.
‘Oblivion’ is a film with the look being a lot more satisfying than the thought. Viewers with the option may well want to see the film in IMAX as the strongest aspects of the film are the its art direction and its visual effects. It is a pity there is no IMAX equivalent for too small a concept. I rate ‘Oblivion’ a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper