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Review: Oblivion forgivably scavenges classic sci-fi films

Posted by on April 19, 2013 – 12:00 am

OblivionThe new science-fiction film Oblivion borrows heavily from classic movies like Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, Star Wars and even 2001: A Space Odyssey (to name just a few), but what it lacks in originality if makes up for in sheer spectacle and dazzling thrills.

When I first walked out of the theater after seeing this movie, I was content in that it was another adequately amusing Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle that was a lot of fun, even if it wasn’t necessarily the most intelligent science-fiction flick I’d ever seen. But after reflecting on it I’m convinced this is actually a smarter and tighter film than I initially concluded (either that or I’m getting dumber – a distinct possibility) and I’m really looking forward to seeing Oblivion again.

This is yet another film that holds secrets which, if learned in advance, might hamper your enjoyment of the story – so I’ll do my best to sum it up without giving too much away. Oblivion is set on the post-apocalyptic Earth of 2077, a mere 64 years into our future. The planet has been devastated by a cataclysmic trifecta of events consisting of an alien invasion (the Scavengers – or ‘Scavs’), environmental catastrophes caused by a fragmented moon (which was destroyed by the aliens) and nuclear weapons deployed by humans to fight off the invaders.

The humans won the war against the aliens, but at the cost of having to leave their decimated home world and relocate to the Titan moon of Jupiter. Jack Harper (Cruise) is a repairman/guardian who maintains lethal drones used to protect monolithic fusion reactors placed in the Earth’s oceans that create energy out of sea-water; energy that is then used to fuel the human pilgrimage to Titan.

Harper works as an “effective team” with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who serves as his eyes and ears from a floating platform in the clouds where the pair is stationed. While Jack is on the ground repairing drones, his partner communicates with their mission control representative, Sally (Melissa Leo), and warns the repairman of any approaching Scavengers (who still wander the Earth’s surface.)

OblivionThe repair team has had their memories voluntarily wiped so that they can’t inadvertently give up information if captured by the Scavengers. All they know is their mission and that soon they will be joining their people on the journey to Jupiter’s moon. But Jack has been having dreams and flashbacks of a time and place and a woman he could never have known.

After investigating a wrecked spacecraft, Jack saves a female survivor (Olga Kurylenko) and coincidentally finds that she is the same woman who has been haunting his subconscious. From here the story twists and turns and I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that there are some entertaining surprises (especially for Cruise fans.)

So while I can’t give away too much of the film’s plot, I can tell you about some of the coolness to expect from this movie. The visual special effects are amazing and worth the price of admission on their own merit. I loved the skyscape with the exploded pieces of our moon spread across it and the Earth landscape with destroyed landmarks and remnants of our world were equally incredible. There are also several exciting and elaborately choreographed action sequences that will rouse your attention.

The futuristic gizmos in Oblivion are also brilliantly conceived. Harper’s bubble-pod flying craft is one of the most fascinating futuristic vehicles since the TIE Fighter (see Star Wars) and the drones in this movie are extremely badass; with ferocious temperaments and unwavering tenacity they are the most unforgettable orb shaped villains you’ll ever see.

OblivionNever mind his detractors, Tom Cruise is still one of the best actors and action-stars of the past thirty years. Whether a role requires serious dramatic emoting or edge-of-your-seat suspense, he is always engaging and convincing in his performance endeavors and his movies are typically first rate, with Oblivion being no exception. The always magnificent Morgan Freeman also turns in a nice performance as Beech, the leader of a small scruffy band of human survivors.

There are a few plot holes in this film, but not nearly as many as I originally believed. When thinking and talking about the movie afterwards, a lot of the gaps were smoothly filled in and most of the questions that nagged on me during my initial viewing were sufficiently answered. I believe that Oblivion is one of those pictures that will be much more satisfying the second time around when the story is not misleadingly cluttered with seemingly nonsensical aberrations.

Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) and is based on his unpublished graphic novel (which will allegedly be released sometime after the film’s theatrical run.) This movie may not be as sharp as it aspires to be, but it is still a very nice homage to its science-fiction ancestors and its ambitious special effects together with Cruise’s presence make it a better than average genre film. The screening I saw was in the IMAX format (mercifully NOT in 3D) and not only do I recommend this movie, but it’s also worth the extra bucks to see it on the giant IMAX screen. Grade: 8/10

Photos © 2013 Universal Pictures