Decided to dabble in non-wordy essaying and instead write a review of a film I just saw, Oblivion
It’s a piece of shit.
That was a bit much,I’ll admit. It’s not a completely terrible film, it just feels like it’s a bit full of itself. With a booming score worthy of Hans Zimmer and two A-list stars, the creators of the film thought they were making an epic. But the content fails to live up to it’s presentation.
Oblivion is a film directed by Joseph Kosinski, who’s most well known for the film Tron: Legacy (2010). The film follows Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a repairman of THE FUTURE; one in which the Earth has been irradiated due to a war with the ‘Scavengers’
He repairs attack/surveillance drones under the orders of what’s left of the (suspiciously American) human government. In case some shit goes down, he’s also inexplicably a badass combatant as well. His partner (in both senses of the word) is Victoria (played by Andre Riseborough) his mission control and sex buddy who coordinates his drops to the surface. She’s the brains of the duo, and the only one to confer with their southern fried superior Sally (who i suspect is actually famed actress Sally Fields). To avoid spoiling such an “excellent” twist, (cue Shyamalan) let’s just say that something happens that makes Jack question the true purpose of their mission.
Aesthetically, Oblivion is…alright. There’s no doubting that the film’s massive budget shows through in its visuals.The film uses lots of rounded and ascetic designs reminiscent of Art Deco designs from the 50s,especially evident in the the duo’s home base and Jack’s decidedly phallic craft (pictured above). These visuals attempt to give the film a “classic” Sci-Fi look akin to The Jetsons or Buck Rogers which emphasized a clean, streamlined future.
This “cleanness” is in opposition to the untamed Scavengers who’s face-like masks, feathers, and black outfits make them appear more tribal in nature.
The “world of the future” that Jack is aligned with is sterile and naive, shown particularly through his immaculate “space suit” he uses when fighting the scavengers. This hints towards his mission as not being what it is purported to be. The opposition is barely noteworthy though; the Scavengers barely appear (for plot reasons), so their outfits are inconsequential for the most part. The film is definitely decent looking,but lacks visual substance. For example, in Fritz Lang’s sci-fi landmark film Metropolis (1927), the luminescent and and refined style isn’t just for the shinies,it reflects the artificial nature of the ruling class in the film when compared to the grittier underclass. There’s an actual narrative reason for the aesthetic. Oblivion kind of just apes from other Sci-Fi films without any real goal. We have some rudimentary “black=bad,white=good dynamics” and “is this real or an illusion” stuff working but that’s about it. Nothing that hasn’t been done to death already. Mind you,the visuals aren’t bad, just nothing noteworthy.
One of the first things that signaled some weakness in the plot was the info dump in the beginning. All of the things i just listed above was explained in a voice over by Jack in the first five minutes of the film. They don’t even bother to give the voice over a context, like a Star Trek style captain’s log, for instance. Now to be fair, this kind of makes sense when you consider that the film was intentionally made to evoke sci-fi from the 1970’s, according to its director. The first film of that era that would come to most people’s mind is Star Wars, which famously begins every film with a big-ass scroll of the back-story in its introduction. In addition, the twist i mentioned sort of justifies the method of exposition. With that being said, it doesn’t change the fact that there still could of easily been some sort of diegetic reason for several minutes of exposition. More importantly, the premise isn’t original enough to warrant such a ham-fisted delivery of plot. Aliens fight humanity, humanity drops nuke, everyone fall down. The plot has been noted by several reviewers already as having elements from several mainstream films such as Wall-E (2008) (a lone blue-collar worker on a barren planet who’s love allows for world renewal) The Matrix (1999) (the questioning of one’s reality) which makes the premise familiar enough to not need tedious exposition. The film’s methods of exposition takes the viewer out of the story, making our introduction to it’s world jarring.
In terms of performances, the film elicits another alright from me. Tom Cruise puts in a traditional Tom Cruise performance. He’s a devil-may-care pilot (Top Gun; 1986), a who has reservations about authority (Minority Report; 2002) who is into baseball and general Americana (War of The Worlds; 2005). If you like Tom Cruise, well then you’re in luck; there’s plenty of him. There’s nothing to really say about his performance other than it’s par for the course. Same goes for Morgan Freeman: he’s old, wise, and expository. His partner, Victoria, puts in a much more emotionally intense performance, which is important given her role in the film as Cruise’s foil.
Whereas Cruise plays up his usual flippancy, his partner is obsessive over both him and their mission. Riseborough’s performance is like a barely-contained volcano; Victoria’s seemingly comported nature belies her tempestuousness, which we see through her intense gazes and mild shifts in vocal tone when bothered. In one scene, her character fears that Jack has been lost, and attempts to compose herself in order to talk to her superior Sally. When compared to their previous interactions, the scene is disturbing due to her clearly shaky attempt to sound non-chalant; her mildly tossled hair and quivering voice reveals just how distraught she is. Despite the film’s insistence on the personality disparity in their relationship, I felt as if the two complimented each other well. Jack is earthy and careless, whereas Victoria is steely and worrisome.
Their dynamic sets up the the initial conflict of the film; one of Jack’s first lines in the film points out that he “asks the questions Victoria doesn’t”. In his search for truth, Victoria’s adherence to duty (including her duty as his consort) is a compelling obstacle. Unfortunately, the film seems to set her up as an unintentional antagonist, despite many of her concerns regarding him being valid. At one point in the film, Jack’s character presents her with an Earth grown flower, which she promptly discards due to possible radioactive contamination. The scene is meant to demonstrate how huge of schism exists between the characters, since Jack still has a strong connection to the mostly barren Earth. This scene completely ignores the fact that the Earth was MOSTLY IRRADIATED, making his gesture pretty fucking dumb. He might as well give her a boron cheesecake. The film continues to waver between Victoria being sympathetic and her being a half-crazy bitch, intentionally trying to undercut the chemistry the two legitimately have with one another. It’s an unfortunate waste of a great dynamic (the highlight of the film, in my opinion).
Once again, the intentional murkiness of the premise makes it difficult to comment on many plot elements (which I assume is the intention of such “complex” films), so I will just say that the rest of the film doesn’t justify the inquisitiveness it tries to elicit. It answers questions with even more questions. The plot presents itself as deep and moving,but is too run-of-the-mill to engender such a reaction. The visuals are decent, so are the performances, but that’s about it. If you like Tom Cruise or post-apocalyptic films, go ahead. Otherwise skip it.