Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy), who co-adapted the screenplay with William Monahan (The Departed), Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) from his own unpublished graphic novel, has created an atmospheric and impeccably designed, if evidently derivative, sci-fi that effectively immerses a viewer in it’s fascinating world. Oblivion intrigues and surprises, on an emotional and stylistic level. Following a war between humanity and an invading alien race sixty years earlier that has left Earth a ravaged wasteland, mankind is in the process of starting a colony on Saturn’s largest moons. Currently orbiting the Earth in an enormous space shelter, they have stationed on the surface Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a mechanic who monitors and repairs patrolling drones and supervises the machines mining for the planet’s natural resources. When a spaceship unexpectedly crashes, Jack’s bond with one of the human survivors (Olga Kurylenko), a woman he recognises from a recurring dream, influences his understanding about the world he inhabits, leading him to discover the truth about humanity and his unlikely role in its future.
Oblivion, though influenced by many preceding entries in the sci-fi genre (Wall-E, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris come to mind, but revealing others will be too suggestive), features a number of what I will call BIG moments. Kosinski’s patience in introducing us to the now-uninhabitable scorched vistas, the mechanics of Jack and Victoria’s partnership, the role they play for their Tet commander (Melissa Leo), and the unveiled identity of their underground antagonists, leads to some awe-inspiring revelations. While the key idea is quite contained, the plot’s complexities challenge an audience to keep up and try and unravel the mysteries alongside Cruise’s character.
As expected, Oblivion looks stunning and it came as no surprise to see Claudio Miranda’s name (recent Oscar winner for Life of Pi) listed as DP. The action sequences are tense and well-staged, a sequence where Cruise and Kurylenko are pursued through a narrow canyon was superb, and the finale had my heart in my mouth. Like Tron: Legacy, which unlike Oblivion suffered from a bland, lackluster story, it is a transportative big-screen experience with astoundingly designed set pieces that fully map out this unique vision of the future. Another of the highlights is the terrific pumping score by French electronic band, M83.
Ultimately, this is not a film about fighting off an alien invasion or a blatantly patriotic US rescue of the Earth, but is a much more personal character drama about a man who learns devastating existential truths. Strong performances from the core cast are a bonus. Cruise is especially impressive. Jack has a strict, robotic schedule but he maintains a sense-of-humour and semblance of humanity, despite the former glory of the ground he is standing on only appearing in his dreams and learned tales. He possesses likable warmth and his tough decisions are easily backable. His alternative associations with his stunning female co-stars, Riseborough and Kurylenko need to work to add weight to what Jack begins to fight for.
The film’s perceived lack of originality is only as much of a detriment as you allow it to be. The notable issues for this reviewer were with Cruise’s voice-over, which bookend the film with exposition instead of visuals.
One has to applaud a huge-scale, no expense spared sci-fi that looks and sounds this awesome, which effectively maintains your wholehearted attention. Oblivion is intelligent, emotionally stirring and surprising.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.