Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Director(s): Joseph Kosinski
Release Year: 2013
The feeling that first came to me during the opening moments of Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion was that I had been in this world before. It’s a thought that ran through my head until the closing credits and the remnants of M83’s score faded into the distance. Out of what might have been intended to be respectful homage, Kosinski has made a grab bag of science fiction tropes to craft an interesting premise that manages to rise above Tron: Legacy, but fall short of the science fiction films which Kosinski “borrows” from. With a cast that goes through the motions, and a twist that fails to impress, Oblivion succeeds only by being one of the prettiest films in recent memory, and having a score by Anthony Gonzalez (aka M83) which is slightly above average.
In relation to other science fiction films, the story for Oblivion is nothing to get excited over: Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the last survivors left on Earth after a nuclear fallout destroys the home they once knew. They’re left behind to help mine the remaining resources from the planet before they can join the rest of the humans on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons that has been colonized. This desolate atmosphere evokes feelings of I Am Legend, especially when Jack is out wandering barren wastelands on his own. But then there’s feelings of recent video games like Portal and Mass Effect, which leads to a gorgeous and clean-looking future, complete with drones and swimming pools in the air. Jack isn’t content with the way things are though, and hides away every now and then in his lake-home sanctuary he found and built amid the dirt and radiation. Victoria however, cannot wait to be done with their mission on Earth so she can enjoy her life with the rest of humanity. It is when Jack discovers that there are other humans on Earth that he begins questioning his mission and himself.
There are interesting elements in here that make for a decent science fiction film, which is definitely what Oblivion manages to be, but it feels like it wants to be so much more. Piggybacking on the backs of other great science fiction films, the film feels like it is trying to be smart, beautiful, and sincere, but by trying to be smart without getting down the sincerity, the film falters into only being an adequate, yet gorgeous mess. Claudio Miranda rejoins with Kosinski to prove once again that he is deserving of the praise he gets, with plenty of eye candy to gawk at. Everything feels clean and shiny, part of which can be attributed to the “everything-has-to-be-white-in-the-future rule” that every science fiction director nowadays needs to abide by, but it is also because Miranda just knows how to capture the greatest shots. Despite the lack of sense it makes, desert scenes and urban landscapes can all be traversed within a fairly isolated area, and Jack’s dreams are done in a wonderful black-and-white style that contributes to the film’s aesthetic accomplishments.
So much of what is wrong with Oblivion though, can be attributed to the fact that it lacks heart. Not that it doesn’t try, because there is a relationship in there, but it never feels important to either Jack or the audience. What is more important to Jack is that he doesn’t know everything he thought he did, and it is because of this that he propels the narrative forward into a mess of trite science fiction elements as he searches for answers. One of the plot points given in the opening couple minutes of dense narration is that Jack’s mind was erased 5 years ago, yet I guess the organization that wiped his memory also told him they wiped his memory. It is weird plot holes like this which keep Oblivion from being the sci-fi epic it strives to be.
It certainly has the score going for it though, despite how generic of a score it can be at times. I could even compare it to Mass Effect 2‘s score by Jack Wall, as it really just sounds like a carbon copy of that. That is not a bad thing though, because the score is actually perfect for the film, and tracks like “Earth 2077”, “Canyon Battle”, “Radiation Zone” and “Fearful Odds” stand out, with the latter having a more post-rock vibe to it that feels reminiscent of Inception‘s incredible soundtrack. Once again though, the problems with Oblivion as a whole, plague the soundtrack as well: nothing feels original. It all fits nicely together, but there is just too much that people like me who have been knee-deep in science fiction for years, don’t get excited about anymore. Call it being spoiled, or just too damn picky, but whatever it is, I can’t find a science fiction film massively enjoyable when it isn’t even able to rise to the heights of the films it emulates.
On that note, Oblivion really isn’t a bad film, despite its lack of originality. The movie thrives most when it is in the midst of a fast-paced action scene or taking in the beauty of a desolate landscape. When it takes a break though and tries to be something more, there are inklings of a better film within, but it never quite manages to get to the surface. Instead, shallow relationships and plot holes culminate until you realize that the movie isn’t going to ever be as smart as it wants to be. But sometimes all you really want is a gorgeous looking film that tries to be a grand spectacle. This is what the summer blockbuster is predicated upon, and though it is still a bit early to call Oblivion a summer movie, one can’t help but feel like it belongs among that crowd.