If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Especially within the past few years, Sci Fi movies have taken up a sizeable chunk of profits at the box office. From Summer blockbusters to small Indie films, we seem to never be able to get enough of them. So on paper, this movie seemed to have everything in place to assure its success, and yet now after seeing it for myself... I'm not so sure it will. But let me not be too unfair to this, and give it a chance.
Oblivion is brought to us by Joseph Kosinski, the director of Tron: Legacy, and is set in a time where the human race has abandoned Earth after a fierce battle against a race of aliens known as the Scavengers. Those who survived are now on an on-going mission to bring everyone to Titan, a moon orbiting Jupiter, as humanity's new home. To do this however, they require materials to power the ships including massive fusion stations on Earth that convert the water into the energy required. These plants are maintained and overseen by technicians and protected by Drones from the ever-present threat of the Scavengers that remain on the barren and desolate Earth. The teams of technicians stay in contact with a space station that oversees their performance and provides assistance, with the prospect of bringing the teams to Titan at the end of their completed duty.
One of these technicians is Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) who is based in a sky tower with his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who keeps contact with him on his missions to repair drones or monitor the stations. Victoria maintains contact and reports to a woman named Sally Melissa Leo) who is based on the space station where the relationship is very casual, but with an air of knowledge that the mission is extremely important. Jack had his memory erased before being employed but spends the days seeing flashbacks of a life on Earth he is not sure if he had. Despite the mission to Titan being a priority, he still has two feet on Earth and questions the reasoning for abandoning it.
On one of his missions he spots a crashed ship, where upon inspecting it closer, sees that it had several people on board, asleep inside capsules. A Drone destroys them all except for one, a young woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) who appears to have a significant tie to Jack's past. However, they both get taken captive by the Scavengers, who turn out to be a human resistance. The implications turn everything Jack had believed in upside down, from what he has been working towards, his hope for Earth, and realising the importance that the fragments of his memories now mean to him.
So, you look at all these elements that the movie holds and plays out, the huge budget, and the cast and think "This is going to be great!" Well.... things are a little less clear-cut than that unfortunately. But let's start with a good aspect, and that being the visuals here. Even the most critical of Sci Fi fans will be in awe of some of the shots this film has to offer. The views from atop the station for Jack and Victoria are just amazing. Despite the Earth being dead and almost abandoned, there's still a lingering beauty to it all, with few signs of it being a war-scorched planet. The film takes several different locations too, from wide Tundra-style plateaus to vast areas of sand, and even the rare occurrences of ongoing plant life hidden deep within dark valleys.
From an architectural point of view as well, the CG is really impressive. Their station captures the minimalist and ultra modern aesthetic very well, as does Jack's helicopter and bike. What impressed me the most though were the Drones which scout for Scavengers on Earth and protect the water fusion plants. Imagine EVE (from WALL-E) and now think of her no-fucks-given style third cousin. That's pretty much what you have here; they are ruthless and will destroy anything that so much as looks at them wrong. The sound effects for them are excellently placed in and their movements are wonderful to watch, especially when one is shot down and goes bezzerk ending in it just shooting everywhere it can. The look in this film isn't the usual dark and gritty tone we are used to now, but not polished either. It's a kind of the halfway point between the two extremes, and from a visual point of view, I liked it a lot.
As for the story, it actually sounds more complicated on paper than it does seeing it play out. Things run along in a very straight-forward fashion and at a rather slow pace. You are filled in very quickly at the start of the history, and then the next forty minutes or so focuses on Jack's personal issues relating to the mystery behind his past and his conflicts against the mission. They aren't clearly shown but instead are always simmering underneath the surface, while Victoria tries to keep his sometimes-rash actions hidden from Sally. The plot here is simple, but is enough to keep your attention as you try and piece together the human aspect to this film.
Things begin to neander a lot once the Human Resistance is shown, which is led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman). The big reveal is given as is the setup for the climax but honestly, everything slows a lot from here on. The film constantly has to make specific de-tours to areas, just to clarity a plot point before trundling on to the next destination. These do continuously add to the story as a whole, but didn't feel well connected. Characters outside of Jack get focussed upon less and less and at times we aren't given enough information about them to care for what they are trying to do. At times you almost feel like Jack should be the only character in a desolate world (like WALL-E) and the rest is just white noise to keep the story moving.
And speaking of WALL-E, there lies a major issue with Oblivion which you may have slightly notices as I described the story. This film has almost no original ideas of its own, everything from the Drones and Resistance members, to the character elements and finale, are all things we have seen before in other Sci Fi films. Hell, the final scene is so like Glados from "Portal" you'll stop paying attention to ponder over if it was intentional or not. It isn't blatant ripping off of other movies, but the similarities are eerily apparent and too easy not to miss. It is like the film just wanted to hit all of the Sci Fi tropes and thus, play it very safe. But sadly they didn't do it in a clever way, it just felt..... like pretty, but false imitations.
I can at least say the performances were acceptable all round. We spend the most time with Tom Cruise, who to his credit, holds the film together well for that first third or so. He is very quiet, but mysterious and just unsure of things in a very human manner. He almost wants to see Earth return once again to its former glory but can only do so by visiting ruined buildings and locations. He isn't complex, but is relatable in an odd sort of way. Victoria on the other hand, is someone who only has eyes for completing their mission, even the romantic arc is entangled within this one vision for her. She is clinical in her determination and unyielding in letting anything else tarnish it. Sally is almost comical to watch as the actress just relishes in being this lovely and casual, but very powerful team leader. She has the power at any time to destroy Jack and Victoria, but plays in a way like a serial killer plays with his victims. It's hard to explain fully here, but it was a character I enjoyed seeing whenever she was on screen.
To speak on the other technical aspects, once again they are of a very high quality. Especially the camerawork, which is very active in giving you lots of neat angles to see things from as well as twisting and turning along with the action sequences. The team clearly knew how to shoot and edit what they were making and get the most credit for what they achieved. The scenes with the Drones will by far be the most memorable, especially one scene near the end where they attack the base of the Resistance. The score has too much of a Christopher Nolan influence to it to be honest, and felt pretty un-inspired on the whole. But props go once again to the design of the instrumentation and readouts used in the world; it is a style done before but was all very crisp and beautiful to look at.
To summarise things up, this film at some point had great potential, it must have made a great sales pitch to the studio. But somewhere along the line they lost the desire for originality and did just enough to pass off the Sci Fi elements so they weren't infringing copyrights. Don't get me wrong, it all looks absolutely stunning, but... at the end of the day I wasn't moved by any of it. It just was what it was, it served the needs of the film and that was it. The story is stretched thin and at times simplistic, but is salvages somewhat by the performances.
To look at Oblivion is a CG technician's wet dream, but to see as a movie it falls below par and almost into mediocre levels of entertainment. There are saving graces that will make me recommend seeing this in the cinema for the full visual experience, but there's not too much outside of that unless you just adore anything futuristic or post-apocalyptic. I'll give this a Low Matinee (6.5/10), since for the majority of people who will see it; there are good things to take from it. But.... not that much.
Thanks for reading! ^__^