Oblivion – Review

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Film Review by FilmFellaDarren – 6.2/10

It’s the year 2077 – sixty years ago, Earth was rendered a barren apocalyptic wasteland after the destruction of the moon by an alien race caused catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis that destroyed human civilisations and ravaged our structures. Humanity had a war with the invading aliens – we won the war but lost the planet. Tom Cruise informs us of all these devastating consequences of the demise of the moon in the opening prelude. He further informs us that he is a technician to a model of drones that now police our ruined planet scanning for alien saboteurs. He’s the last man on earth – the rest of the survivors have been evacuated to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons.

All this information is condensed into an opening prelude as Cruise’s voiceover fills us in on what has been going down on planet Earth. You’d think that a film which decides to overload the audience’s mind by racing through this much seemingly original plot setup in just a few moments, would prove to be an inventive and surprising sci-fi film full of interesting plot points. Sadly, this is not so. After packing this much plot detail into an opening summarization, the film splutters along for an age suffering from curiously slow pacing as we watch Tom Cruise’s drone engineer travel back to the ravaged surface of the Earth, wandering forlornly in search of damaged drones. He’s basically a machine electrician, but he fails to spark the film into life.

It’s asking a lot of Tom Cruise to hold up a film that sees him isolated Omega Man/I am Legend style, staring longingly into landscapes of the transformed Earth with nothing to do except mutter to himself about a strange memory of a girl he is recalling. He does as much as he can to create intrigue and mystery and he’s a watchable presence, summoning more intensity than the film really deserves, but the film has so many problems that are not his fault. The film is dead to the touch –with a complete absence of drama, tension, and suspense arising from the lack of a credible antagonist to shift the plot along.

This is the second attempt at sci-fi by director Joseph Kosinski after he rebooted old sci-fi ideas in TRON: Legacy. There are telling signs here that he would make a better art director than actual director. The best thing about Oblivion is the striking visuals. From the imagery of the crumbling moon, to the fallen monuments that cleverly tell the audience where the film is set, to the clinical white technology, to the majestic cloud apartment Cruise character lives in  – Kosinski conjures up so much visually arresting imagery.  It’s the most beautiful vision of the apocalypse you will ever see. It’s so majestic even Tom Cruise seems mesmerized by it – as he stops so many times to gaze longingly at the picturesque scenery.

Tom Cruise staring at the scenery. Perhaps he is wondering whether his character is a thetan.

Tom Cruise staring at the scenery. Perhaps he is wondering whether his character is a thetan.

Kosinski here adapts his own unpublished graphic novel – it’s a good job it wasn’t published as if the screenplay of Oblivion was anything to go by, his graphic novel would have been sued for brazen plagiarism had it ever been published.

He liberally takes ideas from just about every sci-fi film ever made. It’s derivate in the extreme. Sci-fi fans will be maddened by just how many ideas are reheated here. I mention the Omega Man influence; but there are many more influences too. The memory subplot recalls Blade Runner, some of the technology has clearly been stolen from The Alien franchise – it plays for a long time like a dumbed down version of 2001: A Space Odyssey – even the name of the ship is a clunky reference to Kubrick’s masterpiece. It rips off ideas from everything from The Matrix to Wall-E, to Prometheus. It also clones a recent sci-fi cult classic to such a degree that the very mention of the name of the film I have in mind would give away Kosinski’s well-sign posted plot twists.  Anytime the film decides to throw in an action sequence to awaken dozing audiences, the comparison to Star Wars becomes blatantly obvious. It also feels like one long remake of the last shot of Planet of the Apes and everything tied to Morgan Freeman’s character subplot – a subplot ruined by the trailer – apes the flawed Apes sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

One of these machines features in Oblivion. The other is in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Can you guess which is which?

One of these machines features in Oblivion. The other is in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Can you guess which is which?

Kosinski’s obviously seen a lot of sci-fi films – he is clearly hoping that his audience hasn’t. You almost feel that the director has shamefully rounded up a load of other sci-fi films and fed them into the Hollywood sausage machine to be repackaged for easy consummation by a teen audience who will be unaware of the origins of the ideas in Oblivion. But given that the film for a large part consists of nothing more than Tom Cruise navel gazing, there is no way that a teen audience will be engaged – it’s for too static and eventless for that. The film is a big budgeted mainstream sci-fi film that has an ill-advised abstract plot and misjudged art-house pretentions. It’s hard to see who the film will please.

Images like this promise much but the film is all surface sheen

Images like this promise much but the film is all surface sheen

Oblivion looks like nothing else you have seen, but despite the suggestion of originality inherent in the awe-inspiring visuals it doesn’t take long for even the most casual watcher of sci-fi films to realize that it’s not just planet Earth that has been rendered an empty wasteland – the screenplay has been too. Given the state of mind of the central character, and the fact that the only audience who will enjoy this are people unaware of all the sci-fi classics this film steals ideas from, an even more appropriate title for the film would have been Oblivious. 6.2/10

About Filmfella Darren
Film critic, writer and long-time cinema appreciator. I write about cinema matters, because cinema matters. Like your clothes and your laptops, my articles were made in Taiwan.

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