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Oblivion Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 04.19.2013

Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Written By: Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Carl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt; Based on the comic by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson
Runtime: 124 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Commander Jack Harper - Tom Cruise
Malcolm Beech - Morgan Freeman
Julia Rusakova - Olga Kurylenko
Victoria Olsen - Andrea Riseborough
Sykes - Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Sally - Melissa Leo
Kara - Zoe Bell

The best thing about director Joseph Kosinski, whose new movie Oblivion hits standard theaters and IMAX this week, is that he is a fantastic visual storyteller and he delivers great spectacle and sci-fi on a grand, epic scale. Like Tron: Legacy, Kosinski puts together another thrilling, sci-fi spectacle with Oblivion. Seeing the movie in its preferred full-frame format for IMAX was a grand experience.

The story follows a futuristic security guard of sorts in Jack Harper (Cruise). From what’s established in the prologue, Harper and his partner/bed buddy Victoria (Riseborough) serve as guards and mechanics after a nuclear war between mankind and alien invaders. Apparently mankind is establishing a new colony on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Jack has to guard the machines converting the world’s oceans to cold fusion energy for the new colony and repair drones that get damaged by the remaining alien invaders, referred to as “Scavs” or “Scavengers.” All does not seem to be well in paradise though. Jack’s haunted by visions of another woman (Kurylenko) and meeting her at the Empire State Building before the apocalypse, a possibility which seems impossible in the year 2167. Jack is not content with his lot in life, wanting to remain on earth and know more about what happened before his routine memory wipe. With two weeks left on their task, Victoria is ready to settle down on the new colony and doesn’t want any screw-ups. However, after the scavengers were somehow able to send a signal into space that recalls a human spaceship back to the planet, Jack realizes he hasn’t been told the whole story, especially after the deadly mechanical drones start killing human survivors frozen in stasis from the ship. One of the survivors turns out to be Julia, the woman from Jack’s dreams. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that just like the cake, Titan is a lie.

What is really impressive about Oblivion is that here is a movie, despite being based on a comic, that seems to almost perfectly adapt and display an aesthetic typically found in videogames and sci-fi first-person shooters. There are elements in Oblivion reminiscent of games such as Portal, Half-Life, and even BioShock. It seems like a gap has been bridged in filmmakers that can do this in an effective fashion, so it’s surprising a competent filmmaker has not been able to come forward and deliver a truly awesome videogame-based movie. But now that “videogames as art” as a debate has entered the discussion, and as someone who loves videogames and what they bring to the table in terms of visual and narrative experience, what Oblivion does with its aesthetic is amazing.

Kosinski as a filmmaker clearly has a love for classic 1970's science fiction. Oblivion in many respects comes off like a successor to 1970's sci-fi cinema such as Logan's Run and Silent Running. And to a lesser extent, the movie evokes similar imagery of the classic sci-fi novel This Perfect Day. Now the stories are completely different, but what all these sci-fi stories seem to share is a lone, individual hero who is essentially a cog in the machine of his society or workforce before breaking out. These are great science fiction stories that celebrate individualism and personal freedom. Kosinski and Cruise emphasize this quite well through Jack Harper's simple pleasures of making his own rustic log cabin away from his modern, and glitzy paradise in the sky. It's a home complete with the comforts of a world that no longer exists that Harper is quite wistful for.

Seeing the movie in its originally shot full-frame format with a wide-open image and 1.9 aspect ratio was quite splendid. Kosinski shot the movie with F65 4K cameras and it’s techniques you wish more filmmakers would experiment with on tent-poles such as this. The movie boasts some amazing sets and desolate visual locations on an image that looks flawless. Seeing a cool, slick science fiction story like this with these production values is preferable than darkened, 3D gimmicks that do little in enhancing the overall visual experience.

The movie is ultimately hurt by its ending. The end that comes is in some ways anticlimactic in its predictability and how underwhelming it turns out to be. When you figure out and see what the actual threat is, it’s pretty unoriginal. The reaction leaves you thinking, “That’s it?” The ultimate end itself, providing a cheap consolation prize does not feel well earned either. But Morgan Freeman’s appearance is awesome, and seeing him essentially man a tank’s machine guns is really satisfying.

The ultimate threat itself that Jack Harper faces is rather unsatisfying and underwhelming. Without giving too much away, the ending delivers on a predictable, unsurprising note. The threat is derivative and unimaginative and really could've used something unlike what many benchmark and notable sci-fi pictures have already used before.

The movie does benefit from a lack of forced boring, hackneyed social commentary, at least not on the surface. The end of the world doesn’t come from pollution, global warming, capitalism run wild, an iPad becoming self-aware, or plants getting angry and sending out a suicide wave. The movie deals less in these moral shades of grey that a movie like Minority Report is able to attempt but not fully deliver on. Prometheus was equally disappointing despite its lofty ideas.


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