Oblivion (2013)

10 April 2013

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Oblivion. On a spectacular future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, one man's confrontation with the past will lead him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he battles to save mankind.

Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of the last few drone repairmen stationed on Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying threat known as the Scavs, Jack's mission is nearly complete.

Living and patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above, his soaring existence is brought crashing down when he rescues a beautiful stranger from a downed spacecraft. Her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he knows and puts the fate of humanity in his hands.

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“Oblivion may be a creative and imaginative idea, but the final product is that of a sub-standard science-fiction flick...”

Director Joseph Kosinski's directorial debut saw him take on the pressure of getting involved in one of the most celebrated science-fiction franchises, bringing us the much-awaited sequel TRON: Legacy. Although he now returns with his very first original idea – given the vast array of references and evident influences from classic films in the genre, Oblivion regrettably feels like a film we've seen all too many times before.

The film is set in the not-too-distant future, where Earth has been destroyed and left as barren land in the wake of a devastating war against a ferocious army of aliens, otherwise known as the Scavs. Although winning the war, those remaining of the human race had to evacuate the planet, residing in a vast spaceship. We follow the lives of Jack (Tom Cruise) and his colleague and girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) – as the former is one of the few remaining repairmen assigned to Earth, to help extract the resources from the desolate wasteland that exists, and be sure that the drones – a violent and protective machinery – stay in tact. However, when a mysterious spacecraft crashes down, one survivor (Olga Kurylenko) remains – and it is her presence which provokes Jack to question everything he thought he knew about himself, and the mission at hand.

With a narrative not too far removed from that of Wall-E, where Oblivion suffers in comparison, is within the complete lack of any emotional investment in the story. The themes explored are provocative and profound and yet the film is lacking in any actual poignancy. We gather that Earth has been destroyed, but we aren't really given any substantial answers as to why, and what the implications have meant – particularly on a human level.

What certainly doesn't help proceedings is the presence of Tom Cruise. He is not by any means a bad actor, but he is somewhat cold and difficult to emotionally invest in, particularly the case in his more recent productions. Given he is playing a character we need to sympathise with, as a man who is asking questions of his own livelihood and existence, it's imperative we like Jack, but sadly that just isn't the case at all. What also doesn't help in this regard, is the distinct lack of any one true antagonist. The Scavs may be somewhat threatening, but Oblivion is crying out for that one, evil, treacherous villain – the Darth Vader, for example. As we don't have any one character to fully despise and fear, it prevents us from supporting Jack and his cause – as we're unclear who or what it is he is actually fighting against.

Kosinski has ensured that Oblivion is full to the brim of influences from old sci-fi movies, with the likes of The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey unapologetically referenced within this title. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but this film doesn't steer away from such films and as a result you know exactly how it will all pan out, with few surprises in the narrative. That said, Kosinski does do a good job of establishing such clear inspirations without feeling like a mere rip-off at any point. Due to taking from such a variety of different films, nothing in particular stands out, and instead Oblivion plays out more like a homage to what has come before.

Meanwhile the finest achievement within this film is the visual experience, as the artistry is exquisite and the digital photography brilliantly well constructed. This futuristic world created is impressive, while the bleak, damaged wasteland on Earth is well-crafted, as a nod must certainly go in the directions of both the location manager and set designer, who have done a fine job. The future is always challenging to get right on film, but Oblivion certainly manages it – while it's encouraging to see that Whiter Shade of Pale still gets people in the mood seventy years into the future.

Oblivion may be a creative and imaginative idea, but the final product is that of a sub-standard science-fiction flick, which, on the whole, is tedious and dare I say it, rather boring. You lose interest in the story and characters, and feel every minute of the two hour running time. Once again this all leads back to the lack of emotional investment in the story, as, to be brutally honest, we just don't really care enough about any of it at all.

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