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MOVIE REVIEW: Andrew reviews Oblivion

April 11th, 2013 by Andrew Comments

We take a look at Tom Cruise’s latest science-fiction movie written and directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy). Is this the end?

Oblivion (12a)
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo
Running time: 126 mins

Earth 2077, 60 years after an alien invasion by a race referred to as the Scavengers in which the moon was destroyed, the Earth’s surface has been left an uninhabitable wasteland after shifting tidal forces ripped the surface of the planet apart. Humanity eventually won the war with the use of nuclear weapons but has had to abandon the planet due to the resulting radiation fallout and a continuing Scavenger presence, and have settled a colony on the Saturn moon Titan. Few people remain on Earth, two of which are technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and communication’s officer Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), a ‘mop up crew’ who five years earlier came to Earth after having their memories wiped for security purposes. Their job – Maintain a compliment of drones protecting machines that convert Earth’s natural resources to energy which will then be sent to the colony via the TET, an orbiting space station.

Though they’ve had their memories wiped, Jack is curious about the world that was once their home and regularly visits a small cabin in a secluded area he has discovered, whereas Victoria prefers to stick to protocol, looking forwards to leaving for the colony when their tour is up in two weeks, and remains in their secure tower high above the surface. One day Jack monitors a spacecraft crash landing, and investigates the crash site, finding human survivors among the wreckage in stasis pods. Intervening when a drone starts attacking them, he manages to save the last pod from being destroyed, and though he doesn’t know her name, he recognises the occupant (Olga Kurylenko) and begins to remember memories of her. With the action of the drone attacking humans, and his contradictory memories of this strange yet familiar woman, Jack begins to question the truth of his existence.

Based on the graphic novel written by director Joseph Kosinski, the movie is a big budget science fiction movie that harks back to the type of ambitious science fiction movies that were made in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, a B-grade movie, only that we’re now seeing a shift tonally with Hollywood taking science fiction much more seriously, as more often than not, science fiction is more and more readily becoming science fact or has some grounding in reality. Oblivion is one such movie, with a science fiction story that has been granted a high enough production value and made into an A-grade movie.

This could have made for a disastrous final result but luckily the movie holds together throughout despite some bumps along the way, much of which is not due to the actual movie itself but more to do with modern audiences’ more willing acceptance of serious science-fiction genre, owing to numerous movies including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Planet Of The Apes, Dark City, Equilibrium, Moon, The Matrix, and Independence Day, both in story elements which it borrows from heavily from in some cases, and strongly references throughout.

Because of these references, however the audience picks up on them, be it consciously or subconsciously, the movie does suffer to a degree, being slightly derivative of those earlier science fiction movies and slightly predictable as a result. There is a revelation later in the movie which did garner audible gasps from the audience though others did see it coming (shamefully I was not among them). Yet while the movie’s story isn’t especially original in any way, Kosinski does manage to bring an air of originality to the movie with the way he has woven these elements together solidly with a plot that could have easily descended into chaos and fallen apart come movie’s end. This isn’t hugely intelligent science-fiction, but neither is it dumbed down science-fiction that we generally tend to be provided with.

The movie does a successful job of setting up a post-apocalyptic world which is incredible to look at but is also believable, with some absolutely breathtaking visual images of well known landmarks such as the remains of Yankee stadium, the Pentagon, the Empire State Building, even the Statue Of Liberty makes an appearance in a sort of homage to The Planet Of The Apes. This mixed in with some great cinematography by award winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (who won an Oscar for best cinematography for Life Of Pi), and interspersed with some competent action sequences which do not overstay their welcome makes for an enjoyable watch.

The performances of the cast in this movie could have also had as equally disastrous an effect, as they are crucial to the audience’s belief in the world they are seeing on the screen. Say what you will about Tom Cruise, love him or hate him he always brings his a-game, and here is no exception, taking a role that could have easily been played too bland or over-acted by another actor. Again, this could have destroyed the movie since it’s built around his character in the central role, and at no point do you get the feeling that he’s about to wink to the camera.

The rest of the supporting cast give good performances as well, Morgan Freeman has stated in interviews before that there are projects that he picks because they are a paycheck, which allows him freedom to then pick smaller projects with less financial backing, I couldn’t help but feel his choice on this one was the former. Though he’s still a strong screen presence, he’s not as good as here as he has been previously. Both he and Melissa Leo (taking over from Jessica Chastain as the actress who appears to be in everything recently) have smaller roles than expected, but they are crucial roles and they do well with them in their supporting capacity. Andrea Riseborough stands out above Olga Kurylenko, who is the weaker of the two semi-leading ladies, though this may be more due to the writing than their respective performances.

Special mention needs to be made of the musical score for the movie, which is composed by the collaboration of Anthony Gonzalez & Joseph Trapanese with the group M83. It’s as interesting a choice of composers as with director Joseph Koskinski’s last movie Tron Legacy which was composed by musical group Daft Punk along with Joseph Trapanese in a supporting capacity. Whereas the musical score was very overpowering to a sometimes detrimental effect in Tron Legacy, here the musical score, while being powerful and haunting at times, is very noticeable but is complimentary instead of distracting, and serves the movie to a much better degree. It certainly stands out as my favourite musical score in recent months.

There is a slight pacing issue with the movie’s first hour, where it could have benefited from a little trimming of perhaps 10-15 minutes from the movie’s 126 minute running time, in particular an opening flashback shot with a voice-over exposition that feels forced, like something a studio forced upon the director for the audience as a result of test screenings, and a swimming pool scene which feels a little over indulgent and unnecessary could have been filmed in a different setting to feel less gratuitous, but once past these moments with the exception of a small scene later in the movie, the pacing doesn’t slow too much or race too far ahead.

Science-fiction fans owe it to themselves to see this on the big screen, those looking for a popcorn effects-laden movie will be pleased, while others looking for a more intellectual outing will be slightly under whelmed but entertained. This movie is good enough that it’s worth seeing and it’s success at the box office would show to the studios that good science-fiction is worth doing, and hopefully open the doors for more of this genre in the future.

4 Nerds out of 5

Co-host of the Monday Movie Show, Andrew is a huge movie fan who is into all sorts of things movie related, as well as a fan of all things nerd. In his spare time he likes to work at script writing, that is when he's not spending it on something movie or nerd related!