Friday, April 19, 2013

Oblivion [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  I. Vishnevetsky (2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Oblivion [2013] (directed and cowritten by Joseph Kosinski along with Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt based on the graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson) is an ambitious, often visually spectacular, if at times "derivative" Alien invasion / post-Apocalyptic Sci-Fi film.  I tend not to punish "derivativeness" as much as others because I do find part of the charm of "genre films" in their homages to previous ones.   And there are certainly plenty of homages present here:  Planet of the Apes [1968] / 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] / Silent Running [1972], Independence Day [1996] / Transformers [2007], The Day After Tommorrow [2004] / 2012 [2009] to name a few.

With a list of sci-fi themed films this deep, one could ask if there is anything original in Oblivion at all.  My answer would be yes.

The setup of the story is the following:  At the beginning of the film we're told by Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise) that Space Aliens called "Scavs" (short for scavengers) attack Earth around 2017-18.  Their opening salvo is fascinating: They blowup the moon, the result being that the physical equilibrium of the earth is thrown into total chaos.  Tides suddenly fluctuate wildly, presumably shards of the destroyed moon crash onto earth causing Super Tsunamis, etc.  Yet despite this, humanity is able to repel the invasion, in desperation resorting to nukes, resulting in the planet being rendered largely uninhabitable.  As a result, most of surviving humanity is evacuated from Earth to Saturn's moon Titan. 

Only a few humans remain, Jack (a pilot) being one of them along with his partner Victoria (played by Andrea Riseborough).  Their job is "drone maintenance," the killer drones being used to mop-up (hunt down and kill) the remaining "Scavs" on the planet and protecting a series giant fusion power-plants that extract their fuel from sea-water and help power the new human colonies way-out on Titan.

It's kinda lonely and boring work, this drone maintenance, and Jack says at the beginning of the film that both he and Victoria had been given "a memory wipe" prior to their assignment ostensibly to help them do their work more efficiently (so that they could complete it and then head to Titan to be with the others).  Each morning when the two receive a cheerful wake-up call by Sally (played by Melissa Leo) from "Mission Control," who also checks in on how they are doing, which all does boost their morale. 

Yet something doesn't make sense to Jack (and I would suspect would progressively make less and less sense to viewers).  Repeatedly, he asks himself: "If we won the war, why do we have to leave?"  Victoria keeps telling him "Just get this out of your mind and do your job.  The sooner we get done here, the sooner we can leave to join the others."  But that's it.  Jack doesn't really wanna leave.

Jack also finds himself increasingly tormented by a memory that doesn't seem to fit.  A dark haired woman (played by Olga Kurylenko) keeps showing up in his dreams.

That woman shows-up in reality one late afternoon when a meteor-like object crashes near their base.  Despite being told to just "let the drones take care of it," he decides to go himself.  That's when he discovers that the object that crashed was actually an "ancient looking" / "pre-War" spacecraft and among the wreckage he finds _humans_ in suspended animation capsules.  He also finds to his horror that the drones that come to investigate the crash site don't seem to recognize the humans inside those capsules as humans and proceed to obliterate them, one after another, in hails of Gatling gun bullets, all except for one, that dark haired woman who looks like the woman who appears in Jack dreams, who Jack saves by stepping between her capsule and the drone that would have otherwise obliterated it like the rest, thus causing the drone to turn its attention elsewhere and go away.  Jack attaches her capsule to his vehicle and takes it to his / Victoria's base.  Victoria's taken aback by the unexpected presence of this "other woman."  Sally, back in mission control seems to see the dark haired woman, who when she wakes up calls herself Julia, as someone falling outside the paramenters of Jack/Victoria's mission (but doesn't seem to give clear instructions as to how to proceed).  In anycase, the rest of the movie clearly develops from there...

It all comes together, at times somewhat heavy-handedly, but ends in an IMHO interesting (not altogether predictable) / poignant way.   So between the imagery of the film and way the film wraps itself up, the film does make for decent enough / satisfying sci-fi film.  Bladerunner [1982] or the first Terminator [1984] it is not.  But it's certainly a more thoughtful movie than say Independence Day [1996] to say nothing of Battle Los Angeles [2011].

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1 comment:

  1. Oblivion is good onetime movie, but was really expecting more from it. I would say watch it only for its visual effects and Tom Cruise. Story is very typical, infact felt it had some Indian touch in it. Like Indian version of Rocky or Behind enemy lines :P atleast concept was same. Although it would look great in theater, i felt spending Rs 320 at Fame for it wasnt really worth. Watch it on DVD when it comes, or rent it from video parlor. Dont want to buy DVD too for it.