Oblivion: 2001 meets Transformers in latest Cruise vehicle
Oblivion, the latest ho-hum sci-fi saga from TRON director Joseph Kosinski is a self serious but endlessly derivative venture that manages to fall quite effortlessly into the “spectacular but middling entertainment” category. Fresh from the underwhelming Jack Reacher a world weary Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a former soldier assigned to the outposts of a post apocalyptic Earth where most of humanity has been destroyed and the remaining survivors shipped off to Saturn’s moon, Titan. Cruise’s mission: to monitor some hi-tech gadgetry including “drones” (fusion reactors) whose purpose is to suck earth’s remaining resources to Titan and protect them from the “Scavengers”, a group of shadowy aliens who now roam our planet.
He is assisted in this lonely venture by the beautiful Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who keeps an eye on him atop their surreal penthouse several hundred feet above the ground while he goes about his daily chores amidst vast and empty landscapes and piles of rubble.
Did I forget to mention that both Cruise’s character and his partner have their memory wiped out so that hostile forces can’t glean secret information? And that this “unreliable na
rrator” plot device would be a cue for the director to lift ideas from half-a-dozen superior science fiction odysseys such as Total Recall, Terminator and (in particular) Moon.
Jack Harper is also haunted by visions of a past life with a beautiful damsel (former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko). No prizes for guessing he gets to meet the woman of his dreams later on, under unusual circumstances and that they will team up to fight the Enemy.
The film is gorgeously shot and obviously a lot of care has gone into the sets and imagery. But the soft lighting and ethereal shots of faraway horizons jar with moments of (uncalled for) loud explosions and in your face effects, almost as if the director remembered the film was aimed at a PG-13 audience more interested in video games than Tarkovsky like exposition
The film is gorgeously shot and obviously a lot of care has gone into the sets and imagery. But the soft lighting and ethereal shots of faraway horizons jar with moments of (uncalled for) loud explosions and in your face effects, almost as if the director remembered the film was aimed at a PG-13 audience more interested in video games than Tarkovsky like exposition. This film may have worked better with a smaller budget. Conversely, the movie would also have worked if the director just played it straight minus the poetic pauses. In its current form it plays like an uneasy blend of the sublime (2001: A Space Odyssey) and the ridiculous (Transformers).
This jarring change of pace throughout the movie gives it a confused, oscillating reality, as if it can’t decide whether it wants to be poetic fable or special effects blitzkrieg. Ultimately, predictably, the director cops out and gives us the conventional, Independence Day like climax, but things start going wrong much before that; one can argue it begins to derail from the moment Morgan Freeman’s ageing soldier (tired, miscast and in baffling attire) enters the screen. Freeman is a great actor and when given the right role can work magic. But here his character is merely a plot device who pops up time and again to reveal crucial plot points. The always watchable Cruise gives it his all in a physically demanding role, but age lines are finally beginning to show on the actors’ handsome face. What his fans would undoubtedly like to see is the superstar challenging his acting chops more often, rather than just performing challenging stunts and action scenes in big budget extravaganzas.
The film has twists aplenty, though several of them can be guessed a mile away, and most of them belong to better movies. But what is really intriguing is the squandered potential. The filmmakers succeed halfway in creating an eerie, trancelike mood when Jack Harper wanders the desolate landscape searching for answers. This mood gets blown to bits once the bombs start exploding and men with machine guns do battle with self aware robots and come out trumps.
Oblivion can’t be faulted for its impressive technical craft and is compelling in fits and starts. But it suffers from an abundance of source material (read better films) and a lack of consistency in its treatment. It’s a movie that can’t make up its mind what it wants to be.