I have to give Oblivion credit. It tries hard to be an original, gripping science fiction thriller. But despite its intentions and its numerous
admirable qualities, Oblivion ends up falling just short of the immersive, emotional experience it reaches for.
Oblivion is at its best in its setup. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Julia (Andrea Riseborough) are the only two humans left on Earth.
Following an alien war, the planet was left uninhabitable and the population relocated to one of Saturn’s moons. Jack and Julia oversee
drone maintenance and the operation of massive machinery that harvests Earth’s remaining resources.
The premise is intriguing and greatly realized thanks to director Joseph Kosinski’s stunning visuals. Kosinski previously directed Tron:
Legacy, an underrated film that was equally eye-popping. This time though, it’s visual minimalism that establishes the film’s tone of isolation
Earth is a barren wasteland with remaining landmarks left in ruin or buried beneath the surface of the planet.
The pair lives perched high above the surface in an ultra-modern apartment. The incredible art direction, cinematography and camerawork
draw us into this world.
Sound design is also exceptional, even if, like several sci-fi films of recent years, it owes a bit to 2005’s War of the Worlds remake (Which,
coincidently, also starred Cruise).
The performances are good, with Cruise once again inhabiting his likeable everyman persona. He does get to explore some deeper
material as the film progresses, but one of the challenges in reviewing Oblivion is that saying almost anything beyond the setup would be
to spoil the story.
I also really enjoyed Riseborough’s performance as Julia. She oversees Jack’s expeditions to the surface and acts as a liaison to the
orbiting human super-structure, the Tet. She does a great job balancing Julia’s feeling for Jack with her professional conflicts towards him
despite the screenplay’s occasionally clunky handling of both.
Oblivion develops a palpable sense of their isolation nicely punctuated by Jack’s run-ins with the remaining pockets of hostile alien troops.
But there’s far more going on here than we, or either Jack or Julia realize.
Jack experiences vivid dreams portraying a life before the war. When a woman from these visions crash lands on Earth, it’s just the
beginning of an endless series of twists and turns.
This is where Oblivion falters. The subtlety and atmosphere of the first act awkwardly lurches into a mind-bending thriller.
The story (Which is based on an as of yet unreleased graphic novel by Kosinski himself) throws in just about every established sci-fi twist in
history. In the process, Oblivion loses some of its unique identity.
While never boring, Oblivion is occasionally tiring because of this.
Much like last year’s controversial Prometheus, Oblivion bites off a bit more than it can chew, but it’s hard to fault the ambition.
To its credit, the film refocuses as it approaches its conclusion and delivers a satisfying ending that nicely reveals its secrets and provides
an admirable, character-based finale.
Ultimately, Oblivion is well-produced, but only occasionally well-conceived. The visuals are far more interesting than the story and
characters. Even with numerous twists and turns, it just isn’t that memorable or impactful.
It’s a nice piece of sci-fi filmmaking, but Oblivion lacks the originality and emotion that could have made it something truly special.
* * ½
(out of four)
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Written by: Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko,
Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Music by: Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese
Cinematography by: Claudio Miranda
Released: April 19, 2013; 124 Minutes