Director, co- writer: Joseph Kosinki Starring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman
Reviewed by Ren Zelen
“I have memories – but only a fool stores his past in the future.” – David Gerrold
The action begins in the late 21st Century, over 60 years after Earth has apparently repelled an alien invasion in a war employing nuclear weapons which have, unsurprisingly, turned the planet into a semi-radioactive desert. What is left of the human race decamps to a new home on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, leaving only a space station, which will evacuate the remaining humans once all the hydroelectric energy has been gleaned from Earth’s oceans. Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, a tough, efficient pilot/engineer who lives in a hi-tech home which floats in the sky and has been tasked – along with his co-worker and adoring partner Victoria, played by Andrea Riseborough, to monitor the extraction of power from the oceans and to supervise and repair a fleet of automated drone craft which hunt down ‘scavengers’, pockets of which are still hiding out on the desolate planet surface.
His memory has been wiped in order to prevent hostile scavengers getting crucial information if he’s taken prisoner, however, he is constantly plagued by dreams and images of a romantic encounter with a mysterious woman in a pre-nuclear-war New York. When an unscheduled rocket unexpectedly crashes on the surface of the planet he finds the sole survivor, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and is shocked to see that she is the woman of his dreams – literally.
The movie presents us with beautiful vistas of desert tracts amongst the planetary ruin and of leafy- green, forest oases cradled within mountain valleys. We see homes floating in the sky, gleaming, white, futuristic bubble-craft skimming through the clouds and nimble, deadly droid machines as well as vast, monolithic space stations. There are fast, dizzying action scenes and the set-pieces are well dressed and staged. Director and former architecture student Joseph Kosinski, the man behind ‘Tron: Legacy’ (2010) again proves his ability to design and visualise gorgeous, lush worlds; likewise, his use of electronic music adds texture (this time with M83 providing the score). Oblivion may impress with its vision and scale, but rather like its depiction of the post-apocalyptic Earth, it is almost devoid of humanity.
Jack Harper’s inner journey, as he begins to piece together long-forgotten memories, should be the heart of the story. Initially we may imagine that the movie might treat us to an examination of the role of memory in individual identity or the triumph of true love and the human spirit in adversity, but instead the story begins to meander aimlessly and soon becomes complicated and turgid. The characters are underdeveloped and never really become engaging. Morgan Freeman is wasted in a sketchy supporting role which simply requires him to act like ‘Morpheus’ out of the Matrix (complete with sunglasses) but recite only dull, expository dialogue. Riseborough, as Jack’s partner and ‘navigator’, spends her days touching glass panels on the ultra-modern console which overlooks the vast landscape below and dresses and behaves rather like a futuristic ‘Stepford wife’.
A queasy sense of familiarity begins to set in. The film takes itself very seriously but only seems to serve up large derivative dollops of ‘Total Recall’,’The Matrix’ ‘Moon’ – and with the topmost parts of famous buildings visibly poking through the dirt – ‘Planet of the Apes’, not to mention a liberal dusting of Tom’s very own ‘Top Gun’. And then there is Tom himself. He’s been in so many movies we have grown accustomed to his face, as the old song goes: Tom’s ‘Action Hero’ face at the controls of his elaborate bubble-craft; Tom’s ‘determined, square-jawed’ face while dropping athletically down from high places on ropes; Tom’s macho’ I may be short but I look good riding on a motorcycle’ face; and Tom’s ‘intense romantic’ face (which I for one, always found the most scary. It seems to say ‘I love you so much I could jump up and down on a sofa in public and then never let you out of my sight…even if it means locking you in a house under armed guard and having you watched by surveillance cameras’ – funny how Katie never saw that one coming?)
Oblivion seems to go on for a long time, which is never a good sign. It moves slowly and rather self-consciously, so you have every chance of taking in how very expensive it looks. Joseph Kosinki has created a gorgeous-looking, but ultimately empty emotional experience and much like the film’s protagonist the seasoned sci-fi viewer will soon start feeling that old ‘déjà vu’.
Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2013 All rights reserved.
Please visit Ren’s action and information packed blog, Lethal Lexicon. While there you must sample some of her series Pitchfork Red. If you read just a little, you will be hooked. Part Philip K. Dick and part Raymond Chandler, Pitchfork Red will take you on the science fiction ride of your life. Follow @RenZelen on Twitter for the latest tweets on pop culture and gothic horror along with excellent micro poetry. Ren Zelen is the author of the post-apocalyptic novel, The Hathor Diaries, which is available for Kindle. The Hathor Diaries is cutting-edge science fiction that you will absolutely love. Read my review of The Hathor Diaries. Thank you, Ren, for today’s wonderful article. You are always welcome at Different Outcomes!