July 21, 2013

I never connected with Oblivion. It looks amazing, executing a future world with a ruined earth, but the characters and their motivations felt sterile, much like the high-tech settings, and the pacing moves slowly, the better to appreciate the visuals.

Tom Cruise plays a drone repairman with a beautiful partner/lover (Andrea Riseborough) and all kinds of toys — bubble ship, motorbike, high-tech gun. We know he’s a regular guy, though, because he’s named Jack and he fixes one of the robots with gum. The voiceover introduction explains the setting and conflicts, as Cruise tells us about alien invaders destroying the moon, which caused natural disasters and led to humans moving to one of Saturn’s moons. So Cruise is tooling around on an empty earth, talking through an earpiece with his remote partner, home running the tech, although the aliens still skittering around make for some “what’s going to jump out?” moments.

Oblivion ship

As I said, the visuals are well-done. The money shows on the screen, and the clarity and crispness of the settings aids the feeling of realism. There were too many effects scenes, not enough character interaction, though, for my taste. That probably contributed to the film doing well overseas, not so much here. The only image that struck me as a little off was grizzled Cruise hanging around with these lineless young women.

Andrea Riseborough in Oblivion

Andrea Riseborough in Oblivion

The movie takes a distinct twist about halfway through its two-hour running time. (If you’re interested in watching it, don’t google too much, because people online give away all the twists.) A ship crashes, and the only survivor (Olga Kurylenko) resembles a woman from Cruise’s dreams. Which have puzzled him, since he’s supposedly had a memory wipe before he started this job. Then Morgan Freeman shows up with a revelation that causes Cruise to question everything he thinks he knows. I am a fan of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who’s also in the film, but his part is minimal, while Melissa Leo plays a remote contact point, always seen on a fuzzy video screen.

Morgan Freeman, Zoe Bell, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Oblivion

Morgan Freeman, Zoe Bell, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Oblivion

Oblivion was almost a comic book-based movie. It was directed by Joseph Kosinski, who previously made Tron: Legacy. Oblivion has a similar grey-jumpsuit view of the future, although with fewer light strips. Kosinski had some preview pages of a graphic novel he was working on, which became the basis for this film. It doesn’t appear, however, that the comic will ever come out.

Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in Oblivion

It’s suitable for today’s definition of creativity that Oblivion feels like a mashup, evoking favorite science fiction films of the past, from Wall-E and Robocop to Star Wars and Total Recall. (I was reminded of Logan’s Run, although the director, talking about 70s scifi in the first making-of featurette, mentions Omega Man instead.) That’s how creators, raised in a media-rich sea, think, wanting to acknowledge those who’ve come before and incorporate their favorites. There’s a certain achievement to reassembling the pieces in new ways, although it does lead to a pervading sense of familiarity.

Special Features

Fans of this movie will appreciate the commentary with Cruise and Kosinski, the film’s two guiding forces. Four deleted scenes add up to a total of under five minutes. “Promise of a New World: The Making of Oblivion” has five parts.

  • “Destiny” (11 minutes) talks about the history and background of the movie, with lots of concept art, footage from location filming in Iceland, and set design information.
  • “Voyage” (9 1/2 minutes, Blu-ray only) shows the bubble ship design and execution.
  • “Combat” (16 minutes, Blu-ray only) praises Cruise for doing his own stunts whenever he could.
  • “Illusion” (5 1/2 minutes) covers the visual effects.
  • “Harmony” (6 minutes) features the music of M83.

On Blu-ray only, there’s also an option to watch the film with the isolated score by M83.

Oblivion will be available for digital purchase this Tuesday, July 23, while the Blu-ray combo pack comes out August 6. The DVD version lacks some of the extras (as noted above), and only the Blu-ray comes with both an UltraViolet copy and an iTunes digital copy. I’d recommend the movie for Tom Cruise fans, since it really is his movie, or people who want to show off the visuals on modern TV setups. (The studio provided a review copy.)

One Response  
Dan O. writes:  

Great review. The story is stretched thin and at times simplistic, but is salvages somewhat by the performances. Although, I do have to say that Cruise gives this role his 100% effort to work. It does, but the rest of the movie doesn’t.


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