Sensational visuals, a pulsating electronic score and arguably the world's biggest movie star (Tom Cruise), but unfortunately Oblivion is hindered by the familiar taste of some of the essential sci-fi ingredients in its recipe. In the not too distant future, Earth has been invaded by an alien force but as we hear from protagonist Jack Harper (Cruise), "we won the war, but lost the planet." As the majority of humanity finds its new home on Jupiter's moon Titan, the last earth bound survivors service/protect the machines that are harvesting the planet's resources.
Director Joseph Kosinski backs up his visually and aurally tremendous debut Tron: Legacy with another stellar effort behind the lens. Combining epic cinematography by Claudio Miranda and special effects supervised by Michael Meinardus the desolate wastelands of what remains of the planet, the beautiful terror realised in the moon smeared across the night sky is paired with his taste for sheer, minimalist domiciles textures the world perfectly. If there's a criticism to be made it's that Kosinski clearly wears his sci-fi textual and visual influences on his sleeve. The black soil of tEarth's wasteland lookslike the soil that Prometheus landed on. The 'Scav' armour looks like the love child of Darth Vader and Predator (with a hint of the facial glow of the monsters from Attack the Block). There is a log jam of other nods to WALL-E, Independence Day and 2001: A Space Odyssey but I'll omit the specifics in order to not spoil.
The script, adapted by Kosinski and doubly re-written by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt succeeds most in the revelatory moments and in the escalating momentum that builds toward the climax. The weakness really is in the exposition surrounding establishing the world and problematising Jack’s perceptions as he encounters the leader of the human survivors - Beech (Morgan Freeman) and Co. The dialogue is clichéd between the characters and on occasion, I was sure I'd heard them before. Lines like “What aren't you telling me? WHO ARE YOU?” and “If you're looking for the truth, that's where you'll find it,” just leave you begging that they found a more original way for the characters to approach these typical narrative obstacles. Once again Kosinski's influence pushes for a fusion between a traditional score and the electro sensibility and thus scoring duties are with powerhouse M83; and the result is spellbinding.
Cruise’s status as the go to star in the ‘action/adventure’ genre for the last two decades feels like an immediate hindrance when you’re trying to invest in ‘drone mechanic’ Jack Harper. There’s a rich history of his iconic characters that permeate throughout pop-culture so that whilst you're looking at Jack standing in a Yankees cap – you get visions of Ray Ferrier in War of the Worlds playing catch with his son. When he’s staring at the beautiful Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) and being haunted by the memories of a love impossibly lost, you’re back with David Aames in Vanilla Sky and even the name Jack, being that he last inhabited the shoes of the titular Jack Reacher and Stacie Jaxx feels tiresome. None the less it’s a serviceable performance, without surprising the audience. The other major notable performance was definitely Melissa Leo's 'off-world' supervisor. Her southern drawl is so lyrical with her catch cry "Are we an effective team" that you may find yourself impersonating it on the way out of the theatre.
Oblivion succeeds, not for its originality, but by firing the pillars of modern sci-fi cinema through Kosinski's sensory prism.
Directed: Joseph Kosinski Written by: Joseph Kosinski (screenplay/original graphic co-written with Arvid Nelson) and Karl Gajdusek (screenplay) and Michael Arndt Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Melissa Leo
Blake Howard is a writer, a podcaster, the editor-in-chief & co-founder of Australian film blog Graffiti With Punctuation. Beginning his criticism APPRENTICESHIP as co-host of That Movie Show 2UE, Blake is now a member of the prestigious Online Film Critic Society, sways the Tomato Meter with Rotten Tomatoes approved reviews. See his articulated words and shrieks (mostly) here at Graffitiwithpunctuation.com and with DarkHorizons.com & 2SER Sydney weekly on Gaggle of Geeks.