Oblivion

Oblivion photo starrating-2stars.jpgNobody emotes sincerity like Tom Cruise. In picture after picture, the actor conveys a genuine earnestness that has always made him an engaging presence for me. Few have a filmography that is as solid, or even as monetarily successful. Regardless of his popularity in the public eye, I have remained a steadfast supporter of his acting career. Unfortunately, Oblivion is another recent misstep (Rock of Ages) that has some inspired moments but largely fails to live up to Cruise’s emotive talents

In a future society, Jack Harper is one of the last humans left attempting to mine precious resources that remain on earth. We learn the human race has already been decimated by an apocalyptic war with a group of extraterrestrials called the Scavs. Yet Jack and his communications officer/girlfriend, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), have no knowledge of this. Their minds erased as part of a mandatory procedure. The unexpected crash landing of a spaceship introduces him to a mysterious woman named Julia (Bond girl Olga Kurylenko), who holds a key to his past. This sets a series of events in motion that will trigger another climatic battle where he may rise up against nefarious forces, so that he might blah blah blah and possibly save mankind.

Utterly dull, lifeless story is made mildly palatable by exceptional production design and a glossy facade. There’s a lot to admire. The picture applies a sophisticated and elegant sci-fi style that is a throwback to the cinematic landscape of the 70s. The visuals are classy. There are these nifty little flying machines called drones that look like big metal orbs. These weaponized machines, which protect Jack from alien attacks, utilize inventive special effects and sound. Every time they were on screen I was fascinated by their tangible attributes. Director Joseph Kosinski adapts his own unpublished graphic novel. He was responsible for the visually stunning TRON: Legacy which I enjoyed. Although I’m starting to sense a pattern as that film suffered from a weak script as well. He wisely employs production designer Darren Gilford again and Academy Award winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda who lensed Life of Pi. Also like TRON: Legacy, Oblivion is highlighted by an orchestral score by a French electronic band. This time it’s M83. Their score’s rich sonic texture is often the only thing that maintains attention when nothing of interest is happening. All of the shenanigans dress up the proceedings in a way that superficially masks a dreary screenplay.

I really wanted to enjoy this.  Works that champion style over substance don’t necessarily preclude my enjoyment. Director Tarsem Singh has built an exquisite oeuvre on the practice. The script’s heart is in the right place as it favors speculative concepts over gadgets and shootouts. Its attempt to be more meditative is admirable. Despite the gorgeous veneer of quality, the soporific story holds absolutely no innovation, passion or enthusiasm. The ideas are thoroughly mundane. Its setup held some promise at first, but it ultimately languishes into something so stridently average. Add to that numerous long, static shots where nothing happens and you have an excellent cure for insomnia. Its narrative similarities to other flicks kept reminding me of better movies I could be watching. I was tempted to list the many examples from which this mediocrity appropriates but that would merely insult a list of superior science fiction movies. Borrowing from other futuristic films wouldn’t have been enough to discredit Oblivion, but the utter lack of excitement is.

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43 Responses to “Oblivion”

  1. Damn. This was what I was hoping this film could avoid: mediocrity. Still think it’ll be worth me checking out, but at least I’ll have been warned. Nice review Mark

  2. Good review, but I disagree 😀

  3. Nice review. I was looking forward to this one but I’m not sure if I’ll see it now. Unlike most people I like Tom Cruise, though I prefer him in dramatic roles.

    • Do you include action / adventure as a dramatic role? That’s all he seems to do these days. I loved Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol for example.

      • I’m not overly keen on his action movies though I do love Minority Report and really enjoyed MI4. I think his best role is Frank T. J. Mackey in Magnolia, followed by Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July.

    • Ok yeah those are definitely more dramatic. What he does in Rain Man is pretty great too.

  4. Good Review Mark! It is interesting to read all these mixed reviews. I am with you on this one. It was such a disappointment. Looks stylish and Tom Cruise is good but the script could have been much much better.

  5. GaryLee828 Says:

    Mark, completely torn on this one. I wasn’t crazy about MI4. I didn’t even finish it. I was annoyed by that fake looking sandstorm and thats where I stopped. But anyway, I may like Oblivion more than you b/c I probably haven’t seen many of the sci-fi films you’ve seen that you say this one borrowed from. I really think I could love this one or totally hate it; i’m not sure which. I guess I will have to just watch when I get a chance and see for myself.

    On another note, you need to get back to the cinema and watch “Trance” and write a review. I am not sure if you would love it or hate it, but I think you could at least appreciate a film for attempting to be different and keep you guessing. I think you would like it, but cannot be too sure. If not for anything else I think you would at the very least enjoy the fun score that plays throughout. I would be interested in your thoughts on this one. James McAvoy delivers what I think may be his strongest performance yet! He is really, really talented! He can just so masterfully and effortlessly convey such strong emotion with his eyes and expressions. His craft is extremely honed, matured and poised for his age.

    • I wouldn’t have had a problem with borrowing from other films if Oblivion had been interesting.

      Your recommendation is right on the money. Trance is at the top of my “to see” list. I just haven’t had time. I fully expect to love it. Big BIG Danny Boyle fan. 🙂

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Yeah, I think you’ll like the score, too. I really like the track “Bullet Cut”. It’s on i-tunes if you want to sample it. Looking forward to your review sometime in the next couple weeks, or so. 🙂

    • Cool Danny Boyle often hires Rick Smith of the band Underworld to do his film scores. They’re always good (Trainspotting, The Beach, Sunshine) I assume Rick did this one as well.

  6. As you alluded to in our twitter exchange – you eloquently committed to paper what Token & I thought! The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am…it is such a missed opportunity! Here’s to hoping Kosinski gets a hold of a decent script to apply his craft to!

    • I often find myself agreeing with the persuasive points you make, then surprised with how I’m unable to predict your final rating. We seem to be saying similar things. Maybe I am just too harsh. LOL

  7. I didn’t mind all the long quiet scenes, they always built up to something. At least it was beautiful to look at. The special effects were cool too. I thought it was creative enough to keep my interest. Overall, I liked it and give this 3 stars.

    • I was let down by the story. I did appreciate the special effects. The different vehicles were fun to watch, but it wasn’t enough to sustain a film for me.

  8. Wordschat Says:

    Hey Mark, four of us saw it today and we all said pretty much what you did so you’re in good company 🙂 While we didn’t know what the heck was going on for half of this overly long film we appreciated the look and the acting. It has more in common with the Matrix with a good dose of HAL thrown in. I’d give a 3 star.

    • Thank for mentioning The Matrix. Was Laurence Fishburne busy? Morgan Freeman made an ersatz Morpheus.

      P.S. Moon & Wall-E are in there too.

      • Wordschat Says:

        Yes we have to be lectured on Envrionmental issues every freakin day. Give it a rest people, we got the idea. Go back to learning how to parent your kids and stop telling me how to run mine.

  9. Sign me up for the “You’re short a star” club too. Thats alright, the star is short. LOL (Get it?)

    Anyways, this wasn’t a BAD film. I mean geez, two stars is like pretty bad movie territory. It had plenty of shortcomings, but it wasn’t awful….

    • I mean it didn’t offend me, but I was bored. I wasn’t entertained. I was checking my watch every two minutes by the end. I couldn’t wait to get out of the theater. That’s 2 stars in my book.

  10. I quite liked that the story took its time. Never really got bored by this at all. Strange how opinions can differ, because I noticed that you liked MI4, whereas as I thought that was barely above average! 🙂

    • Really? To me, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was a model of how to film an exciting action movie.

      • The problem I had with Ghost Protocol was the very poor bad guy, who had maybe one or two lines the whole movie, and then it was something boring like “Arm the nukes!”

        It doesn’t help the end either where it’s basically Tom Cruise fighting someone who looks like his grandad, in a car park.

        The action scenes all felt a bit disjointed.

        I watched MI:III just before it, and forgotten what an amazing action movie that is. It basically has the emotional wallop that’s lacking from Ghost Protocol. And a fantastically evil bad guy in Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

        I have a theory that the only good Mission Impossible films are the ones where Tom Cruise has short hair. 😉

    • Ha ha. I like that theory!

  11. Good review Mark. It’s a lovely-looking movie, but everything else just felt painfully dull and unoriginal. I mean, how many times are we going to have killer robots with a red dot?

    • The narrative did feel cobbled together from the ideas of other (better) movies, although I will say I did like those killer drones. They were pretty cool.

  12. “so that he might blah blah blah and possibly save mankind” LOL

    Great review, Mark 🙂

    • I lost the desire to finish that sentence. I mean if the screenwriters couldn’t make the effort…

      😉

      • I believe it was during Hitchcock that my dad and I saw trailers for Oblivion and that coming Roland Emmerich/Will Smith film. He pointed out, “You notice how they’re making a lot of end of the world movies?” I think he was assuming this was because December 21st was on the horizon at the time, but I’d just like to say Hollywood has become a cheat factory–they know all an average audience wants is explosions, nothing original, just something to go “boom” every scene. I’d assume that if they keep getting this lazy, and everyone keeps buying in, Hollywood will be officially dead in 10 years.

        I loved your review Mark. As much of a Tom Cruise fan I am, I think I can skip this one.

    • @The_Cinemaniac

      Oblivion sets its sights a little higher. “The script’s heart is in the right place as it favors speculative concepts over gadgets and shootouts.“ Maybe it could’ve used some explosions. The story was dull.

  13. I also wanted to enjoy this Mark. I liked TRON: Legacy despite the weak script, although some of that could have been nostalgia connected to the original. I love Kosinski’s artist vision and the exceptional production design. As you say it’s really the only thing that makes this remotely watchable.

    “Add to that numerous long, static shots where nothing happens and you have an excellent cure for insomnia.” I actually LOL’d after reading this line. I wasn’t particularly sleepy during the film, but maybe I can retreat to it at some point if I’m having trouble hitting the hay.

  14. Nice review, Mark. I’ll have to agree with you about the story, on this one. Really thinly-written. It felt like it was aspiring to be something like a Shyamalan or Nolan flick with all its twists and turns, if you ask me.

    It’s really nice to look at it and I liked those drones as well. My favourite scene was probably when Cruise was in the old football stadium doing that Super Bowl replay.

    Though, I have to disagree about it being boring. I mean, I was pretty entertained throughout! But it feels like it loses spark throughout 😦 I see where you’re coming from, but I haven’t seen many sci-fi classics that this movie seems to be taking from, or as some call it, paying homage to.

    Too ambitious for my liking, LOL. I still gave it a 67 on 100, but it’s one of the year’s bigger disappointments for me thus far.

    • You said it. “Really thinly-written” “…feels like it loses spark throughout.” Exactly why I didn’t enjoy this.

      I liked the style but not the story. The “twist” didn’t really seem like a surprise at all. I expected it so when it was confirmed I was underwhelmed. Nice production design though.

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