The Good: Decent development, No huge acting problems, Good character progression, Pacing, Special effects.
The Bad: Does not make some tech clear, Andrea Riseborough was utterly unimpressive.
The Basics: I might fall in the minority, but Oblivion holds up as an engaging science fiction film that takes its time to unfold in an intriguing and genuinely entertaining way.
I am still getting to know my mother-in-law. After five years, I am still learning who she is and after months of seeing preview trailers of Oblivion, my enthusiasm for watching the film was pretty much killed when my mother-in-law told my wife and I that she saw the film and thought it was “boring.” Well, hearing that pretty much kills momentum for me going out to spend money on a film. Having seen a number of trailers for Oblivion, my only perception before viewing the movie, now on DVD and Blu-Ray, was that the trailers revealed a bit much. Now, having seen Oblivion, my verdict is . . .
. . . Universal did something very right with the trailers for Oblivion and my mother-in-law and I do not share the same tastes!
To the discredit of the film, Oblivion’s trailer should never have included Morgan Freeman and it did reveal far too much (virtually anyone going into the film having seen the preview trailer will pretty quickly reason that the Scavengers who supposedly destroyed Earth are, in fact, humans. But beyond that, some awkward opening issues, and the performance by Andrea Riseborough (who might be the most blandly-presented female lead to meet the proportions of a Hollywood beautiful ideal - yes, I am aware she is British, though Oblivion is distinctly American), Oblivion has all the elements of a science fiction cult classic.
First, Oblivion is dense. This is a layered work that delights the engaged viewer by unfolding in a way that answers (almost) all of the questions in ways that are largely satisfying. In fact, the only question I had after watching the film was sensibly answered within the IMDB FAQ for the film and the answer made quite a bit of sense.
Second, the issues that viewers might have initially with the plot and set-up of Oblivion are addressed in-context in a way that makes a great deal of sense. At the outset of the film, the sensible viewer might ask why only two people are left to deal with the entirety of Earth’s security and power supply needs. That gets addressed. How a sentient computer system could make a mistake as tragic as the one that leaves the Tet vulnerable makes perfect sense given how the computer does not have a grasp on human emotions. In fact, outside Sally telling Victoria and Jack that they are responsible for defense moments before she retasks the drones for defense, the internal continuity in Oblivion is surprisingly good.
Oblivion opens on Earth, sixty years after a mass migration of humans from the decimated planet to Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. When Earth was attacked by the Scavengers and the moon was destroyed, humanity retreated to Titan. Victoria and Jack are an effective team of humans who are working in the safe zone to maintain giant generators and the robot drones that defend the generators. The generators are extracting water from what remains of Earth’s oceans to use as fuel on Titan and Jack performs his duties with on-the-job innovation (like repairing a drone using bubble gum he is chewing), though he has an insubordinate streak. Unlike Victoria, who acts as the liaison with the orbital control center, the Tet and Sally their Commander, Jack has an urge to remain on Earth and he has vague recollections of life on Earth and of a woman there.
When a mysterious signal originating near the boundaries of the irradiated zone sends an Earth ship crashing out of orbit and into Jack’s jurisdiction, everything changes for him. After Scavengers try to capture him while he is out on patrol, the crashed vessel leads Jack to rescue the woman, literally, of his dreams. In learning her mission and her connection to the Earth he was supposed to have forgotten, Jack comes to question the mission he is on and the entire evacuation from Earth. With the help of Julia – the woman rescued from the crashed ship – and Beech, a man Jack finds on Earth, all that Jack has been told begins to unravel and a disturbing truth reveals itself. As Jack reconciles the memories he is not supposed to have with the information provided by Julia and Beech, he must make the choice to fight for humanity or run away to the idyllic life he has long sought.
Tom Cruise gives a surprisingly good performance as Jack. This might be the best acting he has done since Magnolia (reviewed here!). He plays confused without making Jack seem stupid, he plays diligent with a minimal infusion of cocky. Cruise makes Jack seem like exactly who he should be given the circumstances. Cruise has good on-screen chemistry with Olga Kurylenko (Julia), so that makes their relationship viable.
While director Joseph Kosinski relies on one big special effects battle too many to make the pace more what audiences today expect, for the most part, Oblivion is smart and deliberate, building to the point it is trying to make. While it does not become as thoroughly mired in emotional introspection as, for example, Love (reviewed here!), Oblivion is smarter than the big-budget science fiction films that grace Summer Blockbuster Season.
That, if nothing else, makes Oblivion a must-watch and a worthwhile film to return to multiple times to appreciate the richness of what originally might appear to be a fatally flawed film.
For other science fiction films, please visit my reviews of:
Star Trek Into Darkness
For a complete, organized listing of my film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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