Friday, April 19, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

I thought this was going to a Elder Scrolls movie...

Set in the year 2077, Earth was nearly destroyed during an invasion by aliens, called Scavs (short for Scavengers).  They first destroyed our Moon, which did most of the destruction to the planet, but during the subsequent invasion, nukes were used to beat the aliens back, making Earth largely uninhabitable.  Humanity has relocated to Titan (one of the moons of Saturn), but a few humans remain behind to maintain the machines used to gather resources for the Titan colony.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of these technicians.  He's partnered with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who handles the communications, and is also his lover.  I guess if the powers that be are going to pair you up with someone, you could do worse than Tom Cruise or Andrea Riseborough.  Kind of a good deal for both of them there, eh?

Their mission is up in two weeks, so they are basically just trying to get through it without any major events.  The drones they are responsible for repairing seem to constantly need maintenance, and they are short on resources.  They are in constant communication with Sally (Melissa Leo), who commands them from a large orbital station called the Tet.  It all seems pretty routine, outside of the threat of running into the remaining Scavs still on Earth, wreaking havok.  Because there's still the possibility of being captured by the Scavs, they have their minds wiped for security reasons.  However, Jack has flashbacks from time to time of a life he knows he didn't live.

After a few days, a ship crashes that contains pods with human survivors.  Jack recognizes one of these survivors, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), from his flashbacks, and she seems to know him, too.  Shortly after, he meets a group of remaining humans, led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), who needs Jack's assistance, but Jack doesn't trust them.  Beech tells Jack that things aren't what they seem, and he'll find the truth if he travels outside of his assigned zone.

It just kind of keeps going and going, and that's really the only problem I had with Oblivion.  It drags out a bit too long, and really would have benefit from some tightening up, especially in the second half. Oblivion initially seems fresh, but you'll eventually realize you've seen this all somewhere before.  It borrows pretty heavily from other sci-fi films, and you'll recognize many things as if they were just lifted directly out of them.  As a result, it's pretty predictable, but your mileage may vary.  There's a twist around the halfway point that was very obvious to me, but I heard many gasps of surprise from those sitting around me.  I think it's going to depend on how familiar you are with movies like Planet of the Apes, 2001, The Matrix, Moon, and even Independence Day.  The movie drops a lot of clues throughout though, so even if you're not a sci-fi junkie, you're likely to figure out a lot of this stuff on your own.  Even though it's pretty predictable, I still found all the various reveals satisfying.

Another thing hurting the film is that outside of Jack, all of the characters are pretty thin and underwritten.  In retrospect, it makes sense for a few of them, but some of the characters don't do much more than point guns at people.  Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has a small role and I think you can count the number of lines he has on a hand.  I'm pointing out Waldau's character, but nobody is given all that much to do.  The film is carried by Tom Cruise, and he's great as usual.  I'd also like to know what secret treatments he's receiving to prevent from aging.  Then again, I'm sure at that point in the future, 50 will be the new 20.

Despite my issues with the pacing, length and recycled plot elements, it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the film.  This is mainly because of how beautiful the world they created is.  In keeping with the familiar themes of the film, you'll see landmarks hidden in the altered landscapes.  Even though they are on Earth, most of the time it looks like it could be another planet.  The house the live in, as well as the vehicles they use, have that dichotomy of being advanced, but still having a clean, bright simplicity to them.  The design makes sense, and I didn't think anything looked unrealistic.  Another thing I liked was that I never got that feeling of too much CG.  It's also a great sounding film, so overall it makes for a very immersive experience.  I saw it on IMAX and definitely recommend seeing it in that format if available to you.

Originally written as a graphic novel by director Joseph Kosinski (who also directed Tron: Legacy) and Arvid Nelson, several studios got into a bidding war to make it into a film instead.  Disney originally had the rights, but eventually passed when they realized they couldn't make this PG without making too many story changes.  It's only PG-13 though, so it's not like  The screenplay went through a few re-writes as well, with even Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine) taking a pass through it.  Perhaps all the rewrites are why much of this feels so familiar and there isn't a lot of depth of the characters.  Oblivion is still very much a step up from Tron: Legacy for Kosinski.

Oblivion will feel all too familiar for experienced sci-fi fans, and there are some pacing issues, but it's such a gorgeous looking and sounding film, that it's easy to get past that.  Tom Cruise is excellent again and continues to show why he's still a star.  Oblivion isn't a perfect film, but I was able to lose myself in it for a few hours, and some of the images have really stuck with me, so I chalk that up to a success.  I recommend it as a matinee, but if you can see it in IMAX or similar format, then go for it.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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