High above the scorched landscape of planet Earth that has been destroyed by alien invaders called ‘Scavs’ there sits a flash living space featuring a large glass-bottom pool where the film’s characters frolic. You know a film isn’t having an impact when amidst all the lashings of science fiction tropes you can only ponder how the pool’s filtration system works. Welcome to Oblivion, a film that lets the mind wonder to mundane and familiar places within the sci-fi genre although there are a few decent surprises. Humankind has abandoned Earth and a few survivors remain to oversee the maintenance of mechanical drones that protect the giant automated machines harvesting natural resources. A drone repairman, Jack (Tom Cruise) and his communications partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) oversee the operation. When a mysterious spaceship crash-lands in their area the duo investigate and find out the true nature of their mission.
Throughout Oblivion it is obvious that writer/director, Joseph Kosinski is a big sci-fi fan and he wears his influences on his screen. It’s almost as if the director pulled out a shopping list of all the films he wanted to reference as a tribute and he didn’t miss much: Star Wars, Planet of the Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Independence Day, Alien, Blade Runner, Moon, District 9, Predator… it’s overstuffed. While it’s interesting to see a Cruise running on a Stanley Kubrick inspired circular treadmill, HAL 9000’s red eye present in the design of the drones, or even Darth Vader’s distant cousin in the ‘Scav’ design, Kosinski never builds on any of the ideas presented by the great films that have obviously influenced Oblivion.
The screenplay from Kosinski with re-writes from Karl Gajdusek and Michael Ardnt, throws the film into a vague black hole for a majority of the runtime as if pulling a cosmic curtain over the big secrets. A lot of time is wasted going over the same plot points and the repetition seems like an excuse to show off the amazing visuals and digital effects of the charred remains of Earth and all the futuristic gadgets. And why the hell not? It’s a stunning creation with everything from the remains of a destroyed moon speckled across the sky, the hints of nature taking ownership over the landscape once again and a ride in Jack’s slick spaceship (that looks like a Robocop’s genitals). For all its ambiguities, Oblivion does deliver a few decent revelations as it zooms toward the finale and although the twists feel familiar and far too derivative, Kosinksi places his bombshells precisely enough to jolt your curiosity.
Cruise fulfills his action man duties with ease but there was one motorbike sequence that almost warrants an intervention for Cruise appearing in films on motorcycles. Cruise’s Jack is haunted by memories and dreams of life before his career as a futuristic repairman and he delivers an apt performance playing the sci-fi hero stuck between his duty and humanity. Riseborough is entrancing but somewhat distant and loyal in upholding the mission. There’s enough mystery to her behaviour that keeps you mildly involved. Appearing via various screens as the representative of Jack and Victoria’s employer is Melissa Leo who freshens up the computer bound corporate voice with her southern accent and corporate ideologies.
Instead of presenting something fresh and iconic in the score (like so many films in the genre have in the past) the work of Anthony Gonzalez, M83, and Joseph Trapanese is so overbearing and reminiscent of the work of fellow composer, Hans Zimmer that you almost feel compelled to call Mr. Zimmer’s lawyers. To quote Pablo Picasso “good artists copy, great artists steal;” he was however speaking before the age of ‘copy and paste’.
Oblivion serves as a great introduction to the sci-fi genre; if you’ve been living in a nuclear fallout shelter since the 1950s. For those more familiar with the genre, it’s an elaborate sci-fi theme park ride where you can point out all your favourite cinematic memories without getting too involved.
[rating=2] and half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies