By Jessica Delfanti | April 19, 2013
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo
With films like J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek gaining prowess and restoring interest in hard-science fiction, it isn’t surprising that Hollywood is jumping to attention. While a new surge of sci-fi promises exciting and unique flicks like Elysium, it will also inevitably deliver lackluster if beautiful iterations like Oblivion.
Oblivion centers on a post-human Earth, rendered in gorgeous and subtle imagery. Edging away from ultra-apocalypse films that glory in the destruction of national landmarks, Oblivion is tasteful and stirring in its depiction: a Sistine Chapel fully covered in sand, an eroded football stadium. Life of Pi’s Claudio Miranda’s cinematography is a marvel to watch: whether scoping the majesty of the destroyed but alive Earth, or scaling the modernist tools of the humans–drones, a space station–there is something naturally minimalist to the film that reads incredibly on an IMAX screen.
Where the human action reads as goofy and overdrawn, the technology and drone action is fun and flashy to watch. All of the tools Jack employs, from his awkwardly phallic jet to the incredibly designed drones, which use a single lens to change mechanical screening into a sense of facial-emotional expression, are cast in a minimalist white that stinks of Apple products. In comparison, the water-sucking rigs and the uber spaceship, the Tet, are attractive and rendered in immense and realistic detail.
It is disappointing that the narrative and substance of the film does not live up to its context. In the world of Oblivion, Earth has been invaded and abandoned: the humans “won the war but lost the planet.” Now, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise)–and can we please stop naming sci-fi characters with the Jack + quaint occupation-based surname?–and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are in charge of manning drones that protect a complex system of water-sucking-energy-machines. Don’t ask for explanation, just believe. After a strange signal invokes a strange crash, Jack discovers survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and opens a door to a series of revelations that include but are not limited to: Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau going gruff and noble; Morgan Freeman wearing some goofy glasses and smoking a cigar; an insanely obvious twist; and some scenes that feel like the visualization of Cruise’s public ego.
The result of this is a movie that is beautiful to look at, but so devoid of engagement that there is a sizeable chunk of the film where the viewer is simply bored. Those with an appreciation may find the visuals worth the ticket price, but those looking for a good story would do better to save their money.