Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Get out your lasers and flying robots, we're reviewing Oblivion!
In the far flung future, after war with an alien race known only as Scavs, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) make up a team of techs stationed on Earth to repair damaged drones. They're only two weeks from joining the rest of the survivors on Titan, but Jack wants to stay on Earth. After he makes a frightening discovery, he'll question his entire mission.

Well hmm. I enjoyed Oblivion, but it's not really amazing. Oblivion is original without being too original. It's a new IP, but it pulls from a lot of other different and better Sci-Fi movies. 
This Tom Cruise is slightly better
than my last Tom Cruise.

First, let's go over the visuals, because they are definitely a high point. They have gorgeous dystopian landscapes, reminiscent of the Fallout series or Planet of the Apes. Beautiful, terrible landscapes have overtaken entire cities. It's the kind of world I'd like to revisit. Even the greener places have a tranquility that captures the feeling of being out in the woods. Great atmosphere is what I'm saying. And I love the tech! It's very sleek and robotic with things jutting out and transforming into other things. The drones are shiny and a little off-putting with their beeps and psychotic-sounding whirls. The pew-pew lasers are fun, as are the mid-air ship chases and off-road biking. It's all very cool, although we kind of get gypped out of cool alien designs. Not to say there aren't aliens, but, well, I CAN'T SAY ANYMORE. The action is good, too, when it's there.

But then there's the story, which I'm not going to get into because it's not the kind of thing you can talk about without spoiling. And it's interesting, and maybe ten or twenty years or so ago it would have been new and exciting, but so many other, better sci-fi movies have come along that have done the same twists already – and better. And it's not just that those are better movies, it's that they've ruined us and we're expecting those twists. So when they do come along in Oblivion, it's not that big a thing.

It doesn't help, either, that the story is long, meandering, and messy. Well-done narratives have points that clue you in as to where you are exactly in the story – indicating if this is the middle, or close to the climax. But in Oblivion, it starts and stops and starts again, twists happen that you think are the big climax but aren't really, and then there are long stretches of nothing… it's a mess. It's very pretty to look at, but a pretty mess, nonetheless.

There are some big story problems too, aside from the twists being taken from other, better movies. The movie starts with an exposition-laden opening speech from Jack, which would be fine – except that he says pretty much the exact same speech to a new character later in the movie, making the whole thing extraneous. At one point he meets Beech (Morgan Freeman), who wants Jack to do something, and half the movie could be cut if he just told Jack what was going on, but instead lets him go figure it out himself. Then later he simply explains it as, "If I told you, you wouldn't have believed me." Well you could have showed him pictures or video, jerk! I find it hard to believe they don't have that in the future.

Oh and spoiler alert! Morgan Freeman, the only black main character, dies. Glad we're in the progressive future and all.

And about the twists… they're interesting, and they've come from other movies, but the biggest problem is that there are two or three major ones and they're not really done well enough that they all get enough attention. I feel like just having one of those major twists would have made the narrative better as a whole. Or they should have come up with a more cohesive way to combine the twists, rather than picking a handful from other movies and tossing them together haphazardly.

Major points do have to be given for the soundtrack, partially created by M83. It's a stellar mix of techno and epic classical instruments. It's probably my favorite part of the movie. Though to be fair, it does sound like a remix of Tron Legacy, The Dark Knight and Cloud Atlas. But knock-off Daft Punk is still better than most movie scores these days, so still certainly worth a listen.

The acting is very good, very dramatic and all. Except for Morgan Freeman, who is, of course, playing Morgan Freeman. But Tom Cruise definitely pulls his weight. When I first saw trailers I'd wished some unknown had been in the main seat, but given the narrative, I think he's perfect for the role. I'll elaborate on that in a later post. Oh and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, is in it! He's cool, right? Riseborough is very British and fills her role of “That One Person Who Doesn't Believe The Main Character” fairly well. They're alone on Earth and are paired up romantically, obviously, because what are you going to do when you're a man and a woman alone on Earth… NOT have sex? And it does become interesting later in the film, but I can't help wishing for a version in which it was two guys who became romantically entangled, alone on the far reaches of Earth. You can't tell me you're not interested in seeing Broke Back Oblivion.

It's a very pretty film and quite a bit of fun. It is not the kind of sci-fi movie that will change people's lives or turn the establishment on its head, like some were hoping, and it definitely gets to be long and sloppy in the middle, but I rather enjoyed it for what it is.

THE GOOD: Beautiful visuals, well done visual effects, cool future tech, some interesting ideas, good acting, great score and soundtrack, fun action.

THE BAD: Feels long and gets to be a mess, takes from too many places with not a lot of originality, kills the black guy, no cool alien designs, too many twists.

THE VERDICT: $$$$ Yeah, go ahead and see it. The visuals are worth seeing in theaters, kind of surprised it's not in 3D. It's not amazing and there are definitely better sci-fi movies out there, but this one is still a ton of fun.

MOVIES LIKE IT: Total Recall, I Am Legend, The Matrix, Tron Legacy, Minority Report, Planet of The Apes, Fallout 3, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Prometheus

ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Jack is flying towards the radiation zone, where big red graphics sprout up like a wall. "Jack, don't go into the radiation zone! You know you'll be cooked in seconds!" Thanks Ms. Exposition, as someone who's been there for years, I'm sure he doesn't know that at all! Hmm, I wonder if that will be important later? What do you think, movie, HMMMMM?!

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