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Thursday, April 18, 2013


Another month, another very solid Tom Cruise film. Why do people hate him so much again?

Also at Channel 24

What it's about

With the earth left a nuclear wasteland after its nations unleashed its collective nuclear arsenals against an invading alien force, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are a two-man task team working together on Earth to ensure the success of an operation to extract the last of the planet's natural resources for their colony on Titan. But when Jack starts having dreams of a mysterious woman, he is soon confronted with possibility that nothing is what it seems.

What we thought

One of the best things about Oblivion is just how unpredictable it is. Not unpredictable in the sense that it goes to places where you would never expect it to, let alone somewhere truly original, but unpredictable in the sense that you just never know which science fiction movie it's going to crib from next. Writer/ director Joseph Kosinski is clearly a fan of the old saying, “if you're going to steal, steal from the best” but when he's done stealing from the best, he steals from the rest too.

The film starts off as something of a mix between Moon and Silent Running but by the time it's done, it has borrowed elements from the Matrix, Star Wars, The Island/ The Clonus Horror, Predator, Independence Day, Brazil, Wall-E, Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The result, oddly enough though, isn't a film that feels derivative and uninspired. Much like The Matrix before it, Oblivion's freewheeling plundering of past science fiction gives it a weird freshness that makes it more than just the sum of its sources – though, no, of course there's nothing to suggest that it will come even remotely close to having the pop cultural impact of the Wachowski's landmark sci-fi work.

What this also means though, is that the film is all over the place in terms of pace, tone and story, which in turn means that different audiences will get different things out of it, but no one will be wholly satisfied with it. Oblivion tries to have its proverbial cake by switching between contemplative, character-driven “smart sci-fi and action-packed “popcorn sci-fi” and, though the two clash less than one would expect, neither side feels entirely developed.

As such, though I enjoyed the film's nuttier, unabashedly entertaining moments, I was far more interested in the film's more intriguing and contemplative moments. Indeed, while many of my fellow critics bemoaned the slow pace of the opening act of the film, I personally feel that it's these early sections that are the film's best – I just wish that more time was spent on the themes that these moments hinted at but never really explored.

More than that, the film switches lead actresses halfway through. Unfortunately, though Olga Kurylenko is both fine in the part and undeniably beautiful, she doesn't come close to Andrea Riseborough who is not only a simply spectacular actress, but also happens to have better chemistry with her leading man, Tom Cruise, and a far, far more engaging character with which to work. Riseborough's Victoria is an important presence throughout the film, but her side-lining halfway through is something from which the film never truly recovers.

Still, as incoherent and rambling as the film may be, it is impressively consistent in three key areas. First, the film simply looks beautiful. Between Kosinski's strong direction, cinematographer Claudio Miranda's (Life of Pi) stunning camera work and some absolutely seamless CGI, there's nothing about the film that doesn't look great. Second, though the film suffers from its lead actress switch and Morgan Freeman is sadly underused, Tom Cruise holds the film together as its likeable, engaging hero, rolling easily with the film's many twists and turns.

Ultimately and most importantly, the film is also consistent in engaging and entertaining its audience with a story that makes up for its lack of depth and cohesiveness by never letting up with some old fashioned, mystery-driven plotting. It's no classic then and it's certainly lacking in depth, but Oblivion has more than enough going for it to make for a thoroughly enjoyable and, yes, weirdly unpredictable slice of populist science fiction entertainment.

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