Oblivion (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Oblivion (2013)

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I wandered out of Oblivion with several nagging thoughts and one lingering question.  Has any science fiction film ever benefited from its characters constantly explaining what's going on?  One beautiful thing about the genre is the way entirely new rules can be laid out in a universe that seems like ours.  It's annoying to be saddled with a character whose entire purpose is to go "Golly gee, this changed like this" or, the most long-lasting of these annoying explanation habits, a voice-over doing the same.

Oblivion is a film that would have been improved from a lot less explanation.  From the opening frame there is a pervasive narration that will leave no question to anything that is going on with the film.  As much as I hate trying to "solve" a movie, it's a lot better to do it through visual cues than with someone laying out the details of their planet with dialogue that might as well say "There will be no surprises."  Admittedly, I'm coming at this from the vantage point of someone who has watched a lot of sci-fi, but that doesn't excuse the rest of the film from being boring and throwing motivation into the grinder in equal portions.

A rare, but perfect, harmony of themes and visuals in Oblivion.

A rare, but perfect, harmony of themes and visuals in Oblivion.

The film opens enigmatically enough with the new of an old newsreel film as Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) explains what happened to planet Earth.  A race called the Scavs arrived suddenly, destroyed the moon, and invaded the planet.  It's only because of the ingenuity of humans using now decades-old nuclear weapons that they were able to drive the aliens back.  Now they are in the shadows, hunting Jack while he is guided b his wife and communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to keep the resource-gatherers alive and make sure the remaining humans will have enough water and energy left when they get to their new colony on Titan.

It's a decent-enough premise to start a film and one that held some promise before Tom Cruise has any dialogue outside of the newsreel.  I will tread carefully, as this film has many twists, but everything that you need to know about the plot and where it will end is laid out openly by every piece of dialogue in the first few minutes.  One line is especially bad and the background audio nearly drops out entirely so you're absolutely certain to catch it.  The remaining bits either Jack or Victoria have to say repeat themselves so exhaustively that I was able to quote them via repetition by the time I left the theater.

Dealing with the dialogue isn't too bad for a while because there are good bits that held my attention.  If nothing else, this is a very good-looking movie to the point where the real stars are cinematographer Claudio Miranda and the beautiful vistas of Iceland, where the movie was primarily filmed.  There are some stunning shots of Cruise navigating the endless patches of water and undisturbed land where the full beauty of nature perfectly coexists with the swirling machines in the background.  Technology as a force of nature ends up playing strongly into the film and these early scenes at least set that up very well.

The mystery of the past is well presented even if the results aren't as impressive as the effort.

The mystery of the past is well presented even if the results aren't as impressive as the effort.

Sadly, all that is good eventually comes to a screeching halt by the halfway point.  I had my doubts when all the exploration and beauty stopped to have what may be the most dramatically scored sex scene of all time.  But when the mysterious characters played by Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylengdo show up the whole thing goes to a muddled hell that shows there's no unified vision around this film.

At this point it becomes clear that Oblivion is less drawing inspiration from other sci-fi and instead borrowing wholesale.  Poor Freeman is saddled with inspiration so obvious that I would not have been surprised if he offered Cruise a red pill and started talking about rabbit holes.  This isn't an inherently bad thing but the parts are cut off via chainsaw and cobbled together with thread.  Characters start behaving in ways that requires more information than the film, for once, has given and originate in better movies.  One perplexing character moment is as likely as me asking you to borrow the keys to your home, and then when you say no and I punch you, asking for the deed to your home.

This is the second film that I've seen from director Joseph Kosinski.  The previous was the more understandably derivative TRON: Legacy.  I have faith that he can make a great movie, and it's clear that he and Miranda function very well together.  What happened here is a film by committee, which you can see by the four screenplay credits attributed to the film, which adds the flavor of many films but forgets the nuance and texture.

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Oblivion - TailOblivion (2013)

Directed by Joseph Kosinski.
Screenplay written by Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt.
Starring Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, and Morgan Freeman.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. i really didn’t care for tron legacy, and thought this was a much better effort for the director. HOWEVER, as you mentioned, the promise it had in the first half of the film just dissolved during the latter half. it was just not streamlined. .

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