I knew going into the theater that it was a Tom Cruise movie. There’s something about movies that have Tom Cruise in the starring role, something about the fact that he’s in every single scene and that whether he’s supposed to be part of a team (Mission: Impossible) or otherwise, it’s always narcissistically All About Tom. But to find that Oblivion isn’t just all about drone repair survivor Jack (Tom Cruise) but that he even fights another Jack in a scene was rather much. I mean, I like Tom Cruise, but only to a certain point.
Worse, the storyline itself doesn’t actually make sense. I won’t spoil it for you but the production team does a nice job of setting the viewer up with the current set of trailers, suggesting a scenario that might not be exactly what’s going on as the film unfolds. Still, even within that context, the security drones are really some bad-ass hardware reminiscent of ED-409, the best part of Robocop, fast moving, intimidating as hell, and with some very cool on-board scanning and target identification systems. If the aliens can create these, why can’t they create robo-drone repair drones too?
That’s just the impetus to get the movie rolling and it’s a fascinating near-future but post-apocalyptic world where we see the Statue of Liberty’s hand emerging from the dirt (shades of the most iconic scene from the original Planet of the Apes), then later Jack and Julia (Olga Kurylenko) zoom through what remains of the Brooklyn Bridge, only the top of the spans rising above the barren brown dirt. There’s no question, the visuals are incredibly well done and for that reason alone, I recommend Oblivion. I saw it on an IMAX screen and the 4K visuals are breathtaking, just incredibly cool and kinetic, everything you want from the icing on a modern sf/x-heavy sci-fi cake.
Just as notable was the sound. Recorded at Skywalker Sound, the team that was formed around the Star Wars films, it was originally part of Lucasfilms, then spun out as part of what they called the Droid Works and now has its own name and identity, the sound is f’ing amazing. I mean, really. The kinesthetic experience of Oblivion in ultra-high-def IMAX and DTS sound is truly astonishing.
Which is just as well because it compensates for a choppy, illogical storyline that – again, without spoilers – has Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) manning a drone repair facility literally above the clouds on an almost completely destroyed Earth after aliens have destroyed the Moon and, as you would expect, thrown the weather and tides into such disarray that the planet’s also almost destroyed.
There’s a floating station called The Tet that controls their actions through the video communication with Sally (Melissa Leo), a wise older woman with a sweet southern drawl. The drones are needed to protect hydrogen processing units that are converting what’s left of the oceans into energy that’s then beamed to the remaining human outpost on Titan, and Jack’s needed to protect the drones from a small band of remaining aliens, Scav’s, who aren’t who they seem to be.
Meanwhile, there’s a rebel group of humans who are still fighting the alien invasion force, led by Beech (Morgan Freeman), with the skeptical second in command Sykes (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Jack finds a downed capsule and within it is Julia (Kurylenko) who he realizes he’s been dreaming about for as long as he can remember.
But things aren’t what they seem and with ideas and visuals borrowed from such films as Moon, The Omega Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner, not to mention TRON: Legacy, Director Kosinski’s previous cinematic outing, the film has a good pace and, as I’ve already said, terrific visuals.
Of special note is the BubbleShip, which has a fascinating insect-like quality to it. It’s a roller-coaster fan’s dream vessel too, as is demonstrated the first time Jack flips it upside down and plummets to the Earth far below Skytower. It’s just jaw-droppingly cool.
Much of the action in the first portion of the film takes place in the abandoned and destroyed New York Public Library, a massive set actually constructed at Celtic Studios in Louisiana, of all unlikely places. We’re never explicitly told that it’s the NYPL, however, that’s something attentive viewers piece together. I like that in a movie. I like films where we have to put things together, where there aren’t flashbacks to explain a story twist, but instead an expectation on the part of the filmmaker that we are capable of figuring out what’s going on.
And then there are the performances. Everyone in the film acts well, even Tom Cruise, who is enjoyable as the slowly awakening Jack Harper. My main criticism is with Morgan Freeman, who seems to have been playing the same gravel-voiced rebel leader for the last twenty years or so. It’s become so cliché that he feels seriously miscast and I would have much preferred the likable Coster-Waldau in the role of rebel leader. Is that too much to ask?
I’m planning on going to see Oblivion again, and buy the Blu-Ray when it’s available. Watch it in HD — or ideally IMAX — and enjoy the visceral experience of a really well assembled science fiction epic on the big screen. Sure the story’s a bit sketch and there isn’t a single moment when you forget that it’s Tom Cruise as Jack Harper (you can imagine how different the film would have been with an unknown — or Sam Rockwell! — in that role), but damn, it’s one heck of an amazing experience nonetheless.