Film review of the science fiction action blockbuster starring Tom Cruise as a man on a desolate Earth who uncovers some dark truths about what happened to the planet.
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Director: Joseph Kosinski. Universal/Chernin/Ironhead et al (12A).
Cast & credits
Producers: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, Joseph Kosinski, Barry Levine.
Writers: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt.
Camera: Claudio Miranda.
Music: Anthony Gonzalez, M.8.3, Joseph Trapanese.
Sets: Darren Gilford.
Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell.
60 years after a war with aliens known as the ‘Scavengers’ (‘Scavs’ for short), the remaining humans have evacuated to one of Saturn’s moons after the Earth is left uninhabitable. Left behind is technician Jack (Cruise) and his communications officer/lover Victoria (Riseborough). Jack’s job is to maintain the robot drones that protect the massive rigs that process what remains of the planet’s mineral wealth to send back to the colony orbiting Saturn. But one day, the ‘Scavs’ bring down a ship that contains human survivors, including the beautiful Julia (Kurylenko) who Jack has dreamed about many times. On being captured by a small group of surviving humans led by Beech (Freeman), Jack begins to question the truth behind his life and Earth’s very future.
Updated: 19 January 2022.
Science fiction, probably a little more than any other film genre, quickly influences other film-makers looking for some futuristic fun. This could be because, stylistically and aesthetically, it is the more ‘show-off’ genre. All those shiny, towering sets, tight sexy costumes and technical, smart-arse and prosaic dialogue are so much easier to replicate and embellish.
So Melies’ Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) influences pretty much every early sci-fi offering (admittedly, quite a lot were from him), Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) was followed by the sexy Alraune (1928) and his own The Woman in the Moon (1929).
In the sound era, Cold War paranoia paved the way for a slew of extraterrestrials landing on Earth flicks such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and then Star Wars (1977) spawned not only numerous sequels but of it’s own The Black Hole (1979) and every other sci-fi ‘popera’ for the next few years such as Tron (1982). A long, spandex web of epic, open spaces, twinkling stars and the roar of rocket engines.
Perhaps this occurrence wasn’t so surprising with the last two efforts, seeing that director Kosinski is the aegis behind both, working himself into near oblivion with the last one acting, as he did, as director, co-writer and co-producer.
With this thought of repetition in mind, it’s interesting to focus on the readily apparent familiarity that Oblivion greets us with. Not one that necessarily breeds contempt, for this is a good looking, niftily produced and sometimes diverting blockbuster, but one that smacks of a certain lack of originality, one that has the pedigree but lacks the breeding.
That it looks good and maintains the audience’s attention is the standard of Mr Cruise who can produce nothing less than a film worthy of attention.
It is perfectly assembled, but not in the least bit engaging. More than once I found my attention wandering and wanting something else, but what? You see, all this surface glitter is not gold; why not aim for something better? Something other than the standard, oh so slick crowd pleaser. Is there life outside the confines of multi-million dollar budgeted pop-corn pushers? Something with real bite, like from it’s star’s impressive gnashers?
But this is a criticism thrown at movie-makers since cinematic time immemorial and by critics better than I, but I say it at least to further highlight the paucity of good, new ideas in Oblivion. That familiarity mentioned earlier shows itself throughout. The dream basis is reminiscent of Bladerunner (1982) and Dune (1984), the ‘gee whizz’ computer visuals smacks of Cruise’s own Minority Report (2002), the bike ride, of course, from Tron: Legacy and the aliens sucking the world out of the world comes from War of the Worlds (2005).
It doesn’t help that, also redolent with other sci-fi films, is the propensity for the dialogue to drop into sanctimonious drivel. Such toss, plummy, rhetorical lines as “Are you an effective team?” and “We’re not here to remember, remember?” can make a critic grind their teeth down to the jaw bone. It sounds like clever, techno-babble wrapped up in some neat post global warming scare tactic theorising, but ultimately rings hollow and facile.
Like all other apocalyptic films, the best thrills are with the stunning recreation of long forgotten, mouldering landmarks. Here we have the Golden Gate Bridge, White House and Washington Monument. So Cruise clearly covers an awful lot of ground as he flies/bikes around these ghost towns in quick succession.
The performances are good, if perfunctionary. Someone needed to tell Kurylenka to cheer up, but Cruise can smile through any havoc and rising British star Riseborough makes a chilly companion as his bossy bitch in the clouds. Oddly though, considering how sex is central to the relationships in this film, the loving here is dispatched with as much emotion as a corporate board meeting.