By Gary Murray
Starring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo
Written by Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Running time 124 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Over the last few decades science fiction has gone from the drive-in to the most main of the mainstream. Arguably, the change started with Forbidden Planet. Since Star Wars and E.T., science fiction is definitely become the major source of revenue for the studios and a mass media entertainment.
Over the last few decades, Tom Cruise has proved that he is the most successful actor, world wide. He has been a part of many blockbusters, in just about every genre offered. He has done a couple of sci-fi flicks such as War of the Worlds and Minority Report. Combining Tom Cruise and science fiction is just a natural idea. The latest to do it is in the Joseph Kosinski space action-adventure Oblivion.
The year is 2077 and there has been an alien invasion. The earth has won but the planet has been destroyed. The entire population has been moved to Titan to restart civilization. Tom plays Tech 49, a man who has had his memories wiped. In his dreams, he somehow has visions of the world before the attack, some sixty years ago. In his mind he sees a vision of a woman he cannot remember.
Tech 49 has a singular job, to repair the drones that travel the planet destroying the last of the alien Scavengers who pepper the planet like roaches. Tech 49 lives high above the earth with his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). She assured her superior Sally (Melissa Leo) that they are an ‘effective team’.
But, Tech 49 has a secret. He has a special valley that is lush with vegetation and animal life. There are remnants of the world before the war, books and records that Tech 49 has collected. He has a connection to the planet he cannot shake.
On an exposition, our hero picks up a signal coming from a burned out building. It is the Empire State Building, the structure in his dreams. A shuttle has been signaled from orbit and something parachutes to the planet. Tech 49 investigates and finds a hibernating crew which includes the woman from his dreams. To give away any more of the plot would spoil the film.
The story of Oblivion is how Tech 49 discovers the truth of both what happened to the planet and to the truth of what happened to him before the memory wipe. He is aided in this search by Malcolm (Morgan Freeman) who knows the real truth that Tech 49 has to discover for himself.
This is stunning film to watch. Director Joseph Kosinski has taken this graphic novel story and fleshed it out into a major science fiction event. The special effects are stunning, with ships flying through canyons more in the vein of the climatic ending of Star Wars. The drones remind one of the evil hunters of Robocop, with powerful weapons that jut and pull with mechanical menace. Some of the storms are out of the Aliens ship-drop and most of the sets feel as if they are from Planet of the Apes.
And that entails the biggest problem with Oblivion. It feels as if it has been pieced from about a dozen other science fiction films. It is much more derivative than cutting edge. So much of the film has that ‘been there, done that’ feel. Elements of the plot have been in much better films.
On the plus side, Tom Cruise once again proves why he is one of the most recognized faces on the planet. He brings a subtle charm to a role that is much more self-reflective than the straight action fare. The role requires much from the actor in terms of depth and naivety and Mr. Cruise delivers every aspect of the character with a certain style and grace.
But, the biggest reason to watch Oblivion is Andrea Riseborough. The actress is in a second release in two weeks, showing even more range in a character that is both mysterious and lost. The character is a blank slate that is more put-upon than emotionally driven. She is becoming someone like Jessica Chastain, an unknown actress who just burst on the scene with stunning performances in films many did not see.
Oblivion is not a great movie but it is a good movie, more an entertainment than a memorable film experience. It is worth seeing on the big digital projection screen, just to be engulfed in the experience but it is not the kind of film that will be cherished as a seminal cinematic event.