IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 126 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Following an alien invasion 60 years earlier which nearly destroyed the Earth, former Marine commander Jack Harper is drone mechanic 49, one of the last few humans stationed on the planet. Jack lives in a tower standing thousands of feet above the Earth where he and his colleague Victoria are part of an operation to clean up the remaining forces of the invasion and extract the planet’s remaining resources. They maintain contact with civilization via a video link with their commander, Sally, and are due to join the rest of humanity on Saturn’s moon Titan in two weeks. Jack suffers from recurring dreams and flashbacks, featuring images of New York before the invasion and an unknown female. When he rescues a female stranger from a crashed spaceship, he recognises her as the woman in his flashbacks….
The poster for this film advertises it as from the director of Tron: Legacy and the producers of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Now the Apes film was decent but the other one was a dull disappointment that didn’t come anyway to fulfilling its potential, even visually, which brings me to emphasising how odd it is that some reviewers for Oblivion have said that, in mentioning that the film is good visually,Joseph Kosinsky is good at creating unique worlds. Well, he didn’t succeed with Tron: Legacy at all. With this new film, he has certainly made a film that looks reasonable and shows a knack for staging some scenes well, but that’s about it. Oblivion, which he also co-wrote, is otherwise little more than a patchwork movie, a film made up almost entirely of plot elements, scenes and images from other science-fiction films. There’s Moon, Wall-E, Total Recall, Planet Of The Apes, The Matrix, Star Wars, Vanilla Sky, Twelve Monkeys, Dune, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, and many others. Some of these are merely recalled in passing, others are blatantly copied in large doses.
Now you could say that most films are informed by previous works; horror especially seems to recycle things. But Oblivion is little else. It barely has an identity of its own. I might have enjoyed the film if it had been just good fun, but instead it treats its story in a very serious, even solemn manner, making the copying stick out even more. Apparently one of the executives at Universal said: “It’s one of the most beautiful scripts we’ve ever come across”. Obviously he hadn’t seen any science-fiction movies of the last few decades. The screenplay for this film is pathetic, constantly stealing from this and that but failing to give its characters any real dimension. I didn’t give a damn about them, so that by the time Tom Cruise’s character parts with Olga Kurylenko’s to go on a mission impossible and he says to her: “keep dreaming about me”, or something like that [I was so un-engaged and even bored by much of this film I don’t think I paid attention as much as I normally do], I just wanted them to get on with it so the end credits would come up.
It starts reasonably, with Cruise narrating the back-story of how this future Earth came to be, and early images of the barren, bleak wasteland with remnants of famous American buildings are quite striking. In fact, the film really does look good at times, with some of the scenes set in and just outside Jack and Victoria’s sky-high tower abode boasting some very stylish lighting and that great image of the shattered Moon in the sky. Cinematographer Claudio Miranda has an eye for good shots and uses aerial views well to help give the proceedings a sense of scope, while I will also say that Kosinksi is reasonably good with action; at least you can see what’s going on, an increasing rarity these days. He just can’t write to save his life, and is pretty rubbish at creating tension too, but I’m getting ahead of myself, and the first half an hour or so of Oblivion, detailing the existence that Jack and Victoria lead, isn’t bad. The pace is quite slow but in a good way, allowing some atmosphere reminiscent of many 70’s science-fiction films, the kind that were made before Star Wars came along and made things fun but also dumbed things down [and I do like Star Wars, but I’m not sure that it was entirely beneficial for screen science-fiction], to develop. Then Jack encounters his girl who fell to earth, soon after that Morgan Freeman turns playing Morgan Freeman, and the whole film goes down the toilet.
There are some okay action scenes of people battling robots and each other, plus quite a good space ship chase through a canyon even if you won’t be able to not think of Star Wars. The design of some of this stuff is good, with spaceships and robots looking quite rough and hastily created but perhaps more realistic than the sleeker things you often see in other films, though the aliens look just like Predators at first. The special effects get the job done too; the CGI may be extensive, but some of the things really do look like models. But the film is constantly ruined by its awful, rehashed plotting. The twists, where you’re supposed to go “wow, I never saw that coming”, and turns come thick and fast, but are never given time to sink in. A lengthy scene where Freeman tells us some revelatory background was ruined for me because I couldn’t understand what the hell he was saying, possibly because of bad sound mixing, possibly not. This meant that I didn’t understand some of the scenes that followed and took a while to work some things out. The romantic side of the story is basically copied from two movies, even to the point of almost using a line from one of them, and needed more elaboration to work even slightly on an emotional level.
All this tedium is constantly backed up by the dreadful music score by Anthony Gonzales, M.8.3. and Joseph Trapenes. Aside from a rather cool bit when an electric guitar kicks in, a better example of the awful state of major motion picture film music at the moment would be harder to find. Not just produced on machines but seemingly written by them, it’s a mixture of semi-techno [and may I say right here that I do appreciate a great deal of electronic music] and Hans Zimmer’s horrible Batman scoring, with three quarters of the score taken up with repeating a Zimmer or John Powell-like rhythmic pattern over and over again. Whatever happened to attempting to musically evoke an environment or scene? Or actually writing tunes? Of course good work is being done musically in Hollywood and it would be disrespectful to some composers to not say that, but it really does seem more and more that the first thing a major studio thinks of concerning music for a new film is that awful Media Ventures sound. Think of Tron:Legacy: the exciting prospect of having Daft Punk do the score turned into total disappointment when they turned out a typical dreary Media Ventures-style soundtrack with very little music in their own style.
Tom Cruise is just Tom Cruise in this film, giving the same performance he often gives and not really making an effort. I want to make excuses for Olga Kurylenko, first because she is totally gorgeous, and second because she has already had the misfortune of starring in the Worst Bond Film Ever, but she seems lost in her role; then again, it’s so dreadfully written I think Meryl Streep would have had trouble with it. Andrea Riseborough does better as the other woman in Jack’s life though it’s a more interesting role. Technically it’s quite impresive, but for the most part, Oblivion is pretty lousy, an astonishingly lazy piece of cinematic idiocy masquerading as something intelligent and thought-provoking. Kosinsky may be directing a remake of The Black Hole next. I’m not totally decided on him as a director, but God, I hope he doesn’t write the thing.