Dir. by Joseph Kosinski - 2 hrs. 4 min.
Official Trailer #3
by Clayton Hollifield
One of my cinematic theories is that films, and science fiction films in particular, went awry as soon as special effects (and by that I mean effects that are added after filming - computer stuff) became a widespread tool in filmmakers' toolbox of tricks. It's such an easy shortcut, certainly easier than writing a compelling story, that many directors simply couldn't help themselves, and when the going got difficult, make something that looks cool to distract from story holes. This is how we all ended up with decades of action films instead of straight-up science fiction films. That's not to say that everyone is equally guilty of this, but in the last few years it seems like more and more filmmakers have finally integrated flashy visuals and good science-fiction storytelling again in a way that doesn't sacrifice one for the other. "Oblivion" is solid example of something that could have just been a series of action pieces, but instead uses effects to tell a quality story.
The circumstances of "Oblivion" are not unique, but still effective. We're introduced to Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who seem to be the last pair of humans on a radioactive wasteland, formerly known as Earth. They're "an effective team," tasked with defending giant power generators that suck sea-water into to generate power that will be shipped off-planet; the people who survived the turmoil of 2017 have all relocated to one of Saturn's moons. Jack flies around Earth (with one of the great sci-fi tropes present - nothing's really left but wrecked landmarks) fending off the Scavs (who kind of look like Predators, but could really be anything after living in radioactivity). After one of the giant generators explodes, Jack is sent on a mission to investigate an out-going broadcast message that he and Victoria intercept.
"Oblivion" is a story that has some twists and turns to it, so I'm going to lightly tap-dance around all of that, other than to say that I generally liked the story, and there are surprises to be had. While this might be a "Tom Cruise summer movie," "Oblivion" is not "Mission: Impossible" in a nuclear wasteland. There are action pieces, frequently involving drones, you shouldn't expect spectacular shoot-outs and giant explosions. The things that do blow up are mostly viewed from a distance (perhaps the best visual example of this involves Earth's moon, which has been partially destroyed, and remains that way in the distance in the sky), as are a lot of the sights. With so few actors involved, the setting is vitally important, and is frequently given room on-screen to show off.
As for the actors themselves, they all do a good job of seeming slightly off. I don't mean that in a showy way, but if you've spent five years largely out of circulation, it makes sense that Victoria always seems to be processing information rather than intuitively doing it, and that Jack is kind of beat-up and recklessly looking forward to moving on to whatever's next. The set design is frequently spectacular (Jack and Victoria's condo in the sky is something to behold, as is Victoria's evening skinny-dip, which really made me wish the film was rated R instead of PG-13); angular, open, cold and devoid of any color that the physical bodies of Cruise and Riseborough provide). "Oblivion" is a film that you can sink back into your chair, and allow the visuals to overwhelm you.
"Oblivion" is a pleasant throw-back to 1960s and 1970s high-concept science fiction films, but done with modern technology. It's not a great film, but it's a pretty good one with a pretty good story, and it's executed well. It wasn't what I was expecting (frankly, I expected a lot of shooting and things blowing up), and that's to the film's credit. If you can avoid spoilers going in, this is a great Saturday afternoon movie.
3.5 / 5 - Theatre