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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 19, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 16
Visually spectacular Oblivion an unoriginal muddle
Arts & Entertainment
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Visually spectacular Oblivion an unoriginal muddle

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

OBLIVION
Opens April 19


Commander Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a repairman. While the rest of humanity sits aboard a space station awaiting their opportunity to depart to a new life in a colony set up on one of Jupiter's moons, he and his beautiful communications technician Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) monitor things on Earth. After the alien invasion the planet was sadly devastated beyond salvation. It is the pair's job to repair the defense drones tasked with protecting the massive water towers which slowly drain the oceans for transport to their new home, the few remaining invaders obsessed with bringing about their destruction.

For their safety and to protect the mission, both Jack and Victoria have had their memories wiped clean, save the knowledge necessary to do their jobs. But the commander is obsessed with the Earth, longs to savor what it once was and to protect the wonders and secrets it still might hold. Yet nothing prepares him for how his mind is blown when an escape pod crash-lands in the middle of a deserted corner of their patrol area containing lost Earth astronaut Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who has been in a state of stasis for the past 60 years.

Who is she? What is her connection to Jack? Why does her presence unsettle Victoria to such a high degree? Why is their contact aboard the space station, the preternaturally pleasant Sally (Melissa Leo), so unnervingly intent on having Julia join them for debriefing? Most of all, why do the alien scavengers, for so very long consumed with seeing Jack meet his death, now going out of their way to capture him alive? None of it makes sense, both the commander and his tech suddenly dealing with uncertainties the likes of which they beforehand couldn't have imagined.

SCI-FI POTPOURRI
Not that we're nearly as confused as they are. The truth of the matter is director Joseph Kosinski's (TRON: Legacy) sophomore effort Oblivion, with a screenplay written by the filmmaker, Karl Gajdusek (Trespass), and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and based on his own graphic novel (co-written with Arvid Nelson), isn't anywhere near as complex or as tricky as it thinks it is. Freely cribbing from a variety of science fiction narratives of all varieties and stripes, the movie is a hodgepodge of genre tropes and ideas easy to decipher, making the resulting exploits of Commander Jack Harper et al. not remotely a surprise.

But much like Kosinski's last effort, this lavish sci-fi spectacle is a feast for the ears and eyes. More, showing he's learned at least a few lessons since TRON: Legacy, the characters, especially in regard to his core trio of Jack, Julia, and Victoria, live and breathe like actual human beings, giving them an emotional resonance worthy of caring about. There is a human side to this spectacle that is undeniable, allowing for an investment in the film and the story that would not occur if this weren't so.

At the same time, there is a reason I am not talking about the myriad of films, television programs, and pieces of literature Oblivion so freely borrows from, because to do so would ruin any minute chance the film might potentially have to amaze. Kosinski's scenario is so overly familiar, so blatantly unoriginal, so obsessed with ideas expressed by H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, Arthur C. Clarke, and so many, many others, that figuring out which bits were culled from what and where is almost a game. Problem is, it makes the scenario far less interesting than it could have been, undercutting the natural truisms of the situation making the movie nothing more than a muddy muddle that frustratingly never rises to the occasion.

AMAZING IMAGERY
It does look spectacular, though, on that front there is no question. Better, Kosinski does a great job stringing sequences together, he and his editor Richard Francis-Bruce (Repo Men) smoothly layering their scenes in tandem, whether they be chains of intense action or moments of tender embrace, in a way that feels honestly naturalistic. He allows the images to speak for themselves, each of them coming alive with a language entirely their own, all of this coupled together with cinematographer Claudio Miranda's (Life of Pi) expressionistic imagery, and M83 and Anthony Gonzalez's (Black Heaven) magnetic score giving the proceedings a hypnotic quality difficult to deny.

Did I enjoy Oblivion? Yes, for the most part. Cruise was made for this kind of stuff, while both Kurylenko and Riseborough make the most of their supporting parts. Morgan Freeman shows up to give the proceedings a weighty majesty it might otherwise not have had, while 'Game of Thrones' favorite Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes an indelible impression as a character the less said about the better. The action sequences have a zippy electricity that kept my attention, while the poetic nature of the images flashed upon the screen continually impressed.

None of this sadly changes the fact, however, that for all its twists and turns the actual amount of surprise contained within Kosinski's futuristic tale is borderline nil. The movie comes to its conclusion with something of a semi-risible thud, the melodramatic fairytale quality of the last moments somewhat laughable. Be that as it may, it's hard for me to state that Oblivion didn't keep me entertained, and even though afterwards I felt the need to pick it to pieces, for the 126 minutes it played I can't say I wanted to be anywhere other than the theater seat I happily sat in.

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