By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity.
Starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo.
Written by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, based on the comic book by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson.
Directed by Joseph Kosinski.
Before Star Wars, science fiction used to be undiscovered country in films but lately, it seems every other movie has some sort of sci-fi theme to it. As such, the availability of quality sci-fi movies has suffered due to the odds and inevitable saturation of the market. It also seems that so many science fiction stories appear derivative of each other, with a few exceptions. Oblivion is the latest science fiction movie, starring Tom Cruise as one of the last people on earth (or IS he?).
Oblivion's setting is on Earth, several years after an apparent war between humans and alien invaders, who also destroyed the Moon. The war led to the use of nuclear weapons, which pretty much annihilated Earth's environment. The Moon's destruction also produced catastrophic results. Cruise stars as Jack Harper, a technician assigned to watch over killer drones meant to wipe out remnants of the aliens, known as “scavs” (short for “scavengers”). Harper also has a very attractive and affectionate wife named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who acts as his communications officer inside their luxury apartment in the sky as he navigates the scorched planet in a very cool jet/helicopter craft. The couple are managed via video link by a mysterious leader named Sally (Melissa Leo), from a mission control center inside a huge space station (known as the Tet) orbiting over the Earth.
When some of the flying drones go down, Jack travels to the surface to repair and retrieve them, where he encounters some scavs, who try to capture him. At the same time, Jack is haunted by “memories” of a life before the war, and of a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko) who apparently had an intimate relationship with him in 2017 New York City (mostly atop the Empire State Building).
Later, Jack is sent to investigate a strange signal coming from the spire of the Empire State Building, now nearly covered by earth left from the destruction of the planet. The signal eventually calls down a NASA spacecraft known as the Odyssey, which crash lands. The Odyssey's occupants are astronauts living inside cryo-sleep pods, used for long-distance travel to explore Titan (one of Saturn's moons) several decades earlier, and before the war.
The drones kill off the Odyssey's entire crew, except for one woman, whose capsule is labeled as “Julia.” As Jack peers inside the capsule he recognizes Julia (Kurylenko) as the same woman from his fragmented memories of New York.
Jack brings Julia back to the apartment, where Victoria doesn't exactly welcome her with open arms, and suspects she is more than just a random astronaut from a crashed vessel. Jack returns to the surface to help Julia retrieve the Odyssey's flight recorder in the hop of finding some answers about the past. Jack and Julia are captured by the scavs, who turn out to be something completely different than aliens.
Jack is then burdened with the decision of whether or not to help the scavs destroy the Tet, which may not be what we were led to believe it is.
Oblivion is a a visually-stunning film, much like director Joseph Kosinki's debut Tron Legacy (2010). The special effects are incredible, especially in scenes involving Jack's aircraft and the drones. The bad news is, special effects can't hide a story that often drudges along at a slow pace. Oblivion's plot is full of plenty of holes as well, making for a contrived story derivative of many other sci-fi movies. Being derivative of other science fiction stories may or may not be a bad thing, but Oblivion borrows from so many of them, it makes for a film that fells like several sci-fi movies mixed in a blender.
Tom Cruise provides and adequate performance, but nothing more noteworthy than his other action/sci-fi movies. Brit Andrea Riseborough is a nice revelation in a supporting role, while Morgan Freeman (to divulge his role would spoil a little too much) is barely utilized. Kurylenko is fine as well.
In the end, Oblivion is a movie that is sometimes interesting, a little confusing, often boring and occasionally beautiful. Cutting 45 minutes from the movie may have improved it, but Oblivion's premise would have worked better in a TV series, where its creators could have spent more time explaining the history of the war, the Tet and Jack's memories. Trying to squeeze all that back story into a 2-hour movie obviously proved to be a little too difficult.