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Friday, April 19, 2013

The South Reviews: Tom Cruise's ‘Oblivion’ gives picturesque take on familiar sci-fi

Strangely enough, I don't think I remember a waterfall in the movie
It is hard to watch Oblivion without noticing the similarities/inspiration between it and other notable sci-fi films. Not that that is completely a bad thing, just an unavoidable observation. The film comes off more as sci-fi-action collage, rather than an wholly original film.

And that is the tricky thing with the sci-fi genre as a whole, it is terribly difficult to create something new. In most cases, the best you can strive for are a few unique elements, top notch special effects, and a fun, exciting ride – and Oblivion does accomplish those truncated goals with ease, it just struggles when it attempts to be more than that.

Next time on MTV Cribs . . .
Set in the not so distant future (as most sci-fi films are), Oblivion creates a visually stunning, yet uninhabitable, post-alien/nuclear destruction Earth. Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a Wall-E-like drone repairmen and one of only two people still on Earth. The other is his beautiful, corporate stooge of a communications officer/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Together they live in an ultramodern glass house, positioned high in the sky working as an "effective team" cleanup crew.
Each day, Jack takes his “bubble ship” (one of the coolest movie vehicles since Batman Begins’ The Tumbler) out into the barren landscape to repair damaged security drones (apparently near the former New York City, thanks to the presence of half-destroyed, but clearly recognizable landmarks like the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty). These security drones, equipped with ultra-sensitive scanners and high-powered machine guns, are searching for Scavengers, or Scavs, the leftover aliens still wreaking havoc on the planet. “There was a war. We won,” explains Cruise in a hollow voiceover.


Yeah, she's probably not a bad guy . . .
Despite “winning” the war, the moon was destroyed, and as a result, the Earth nearly was too. The planet’s population moved off world to Titan, one of the moons of Jupiter. The only things left behind are Jack, Victoria, and the drones – all monitored and controlled by an omnipresent corporation, only seen or heard through the audio/visual computer transmission of a stern bureaucrat played by Melissa Leo. If you have seen pretty much any other sci-fi film, then you know something is not right with this situation. But apparently our hero does not notice anything odd in it, so we are just along for the ride, and thrilling one it is.

The film reveals Jack to be a thoughtful and emotional soul (this will be important later) and is haunted by mysterious dreams of an apparent past life. Again like Wall-E, he collects things (books, records, even a plant, remnants of an older way of life) and builds a rustic sanctuary away from it all were he can just live like a normal human on Earth. But, of course, as soon as we settle in and enjoy the beautiful scenery, things begin to change. Jack is attacked repeatedly by the Mad Max-like Scavs and then there is a mysterious crash in the dessert - both events causing him to drastically change his outlook on life – past, present, and future.

The film begins with a casual, more thoughtful pace – setting the scene (which is gorgeously rendered through computer animation) and establishing the characters (who are hopelessly standard) – but the action ratchets up by the third act turning into a full-blown sci-fi action flick for the finale. With its picturesque, amazingly realistic production and art design and special effects, Oblivion looks and feels more like a video game than any movie since The Matrix.
 Tom Cruise does his standard “Tom Cruise”-thing (and no one does it better than him). In the two female leads, ex-Bond girl Olga Kurylenko is struggles, whereas the rising star Andrea Riseborough gives a more noticeable and conflicted performance as the mysterious Victoria. The rest of the supporting cast (not that there are very many) is more than serviceable.

Oblivion does a lot of things well, but emotion is not one of them, coming off as stilted and distant more often than not. The film also tries to be a little more ambitiously thought-provoking than it ultimately proves to be. It attempts to be poetic and deals with some heady issues like memory, duty, and sacrifice, but often sells those ideas short for action and easy resolutions. But more than anything, Oblivion accomplishes its #1 goal – to be an entertaining summer action movie full of twists and turns (some you see coming and some you do not). Just sit back and enjoy the ride (and breathtaking visuals truly made to be seen in IMAX).

Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) and based on the graphic novel he co-wrote. In addition to Cruise, Riseborough, Kurylenko, and Leo, the film also features Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, stunt woman extraordinaire Zoe Bell, and the always solid Morgan Freeman.

Also certainly worth mentioning, Oblivion was filmed in my homestate of Louisiana, though you certainly cannot tell. Clearly green screens are capable of anything.

*** out of 5 Stars

This review originally appeared at: - Chris's official home for movie reviews

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