If you’re a filmmaker and you’re looking for a way to take an audience out of a movie immediately, start it off with a lengthy voice over diatribe, filling our heads with more information we care to process with details we aren’t even sure what is valuable and what can be forgotten. Certainly the goal is to take it all in, but at what point am I supposed to be in awe of the destruction of the Earth’s moon? Or process the resulting devastation, not to mention the news a nuclear war left our planet virtually uninhabitable?
What was that you said about mankind escaping earth and now living one of Saturn’s moons? And those big machines are sucking water out of the Earth’s ocean for some form of fusion energy? And drones are protecting the machines from “Scavs”? And Scavs are members of the alien force that invaded Earth in 2017, which lead to all this destruction? Do I have this correct?
Such are the opening minutes of Joseph Kosinski‘s Oblivion, his new sci-fi film serving as a follow-up to the visually impressive, but ultimately lacking, TRON: Legacy. Again Kosinski displays a strong visual eye just as he did with Tron, and despite my narrative setup complaints with the convoluted opening, this is a much better film than Tron ever dreamed of being. Yet, it doesn’t amount to much, despite what appears to be grand ambitions.
Once the table is set we’re introduced to Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), a drone maintenance engineer who, along with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), is one of the two last remaining humans on Earth (or so we’re told). Their job is to ensure the drones protect the reactors sucking the ocean dry from the “Scavs” and in two weeks they’re scheduled to join the rest of humanity. Of course, things are about to change and truths are about to come to light.
The biggest issue Oblivion faces is that it believes it is smarter than it really is as it doesn’t take much to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The film seems to work against itself, by giving away too many details at the outset and then clouding its own vision with redundancies and needless flashback sequences that are made to seem important when all they really do is reiterate what we already know — even before we’re supposed to know it.
For as much as this sounds like complaining, it’s actually a level of frustration, because there is still a lot to like about Oblivion, a film I wholly recommend seeing on the biggest screen possible with the most impressive sound system you can find.
My screening was in the smaller IMAX format with DLP audio and M83’s score adds just as much to this film as Daft Punk’s did to TRON: Legacy and to go with that, if this film isn’t in the running for a visual effects nomination there better be five amazing films ahead of it. Additionally, I’m almost ready to say Ren Klyce can walk away with the Oscar right now for his sound design. Nominated five times before, for his work on four David Fincher films, Klyce gives hovering orbs with guns something of an emotional core. His work here is on par with what Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood achieved with WALL•E as he created bots that could seem like protectors in one instance and angered death machines the next. I loved it.
Like Prometheus, Kosinski decided to use the stark landscape of Iceland for his setting and just as much as it gave Prometheus an alien appearance, it works to this film’s advantage as well, particularly when the story takes our heroes into conflicting environments such as desert landscapes and quiet wooded areas.
I’ve heard people offer up both sides of the argument when it comes to Cruise, some saying he’s a highlight, others saying he’s a detriment. Personally I found he served his purpose, but as a Cruise fan I’m simply happy to see anything he’s in, though I’m sure a lesser known face may have served this story a little better.
When it comes to performances, however, if the goal was to have me despise Melissa Leo as the monotone Sally then job well done. Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau add very little to the end product while Riseborough is likely to enjoy most of the kudos as she is asked to deliver more than any other character in the film on an emotional level. In fact, her character is sadly under-explored and could have almost been at the heart of the story much more than Cruise’s Jack.
Oblivion is a visual treat for audiences feeling the need for something “big”, but for the audiences hoping it’s a sci-fi film for the ages they’ll be disappointed. While you’ll find traces of many science fiction classics in the running time of Oblivion the story just doesn’t amount to the ambition of its visuals and the twists and turns in the narrative may be more likely to result in laughter from some audience members rather than the awe Kosinski certainly would prefer.