Posted: April 24, 2013 in Film reviews
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Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman.

A big budget sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise and directed by the man who made Tron Legacy, but is it a stellar success or should it be cast into the nearest black hole?

The year is 2077 and the Earth is a wasteland. In 2017 aliens called Scavs arrived in the solar system. They blew up Earth’s moon and then invaded the planet. Humanity fought back but the battle became so desperate that mankind had to utilise nukes, which meant though they won the war, there wasn’t much of Earth left. The survivors have left, most to Saturn’s moon, Titan, the rest to the Tet, a giant space station where they’re preparing for the trip to Titan.

Down on Earth giant processing machines are sucking up the planet’s remaining water to use as fuel for the journey to Saturn. Trouble is some Scavs remain on the planet, and they’re determined to destroy the processing plants. Automated drones fight the Scavs off, but when they’re damaged Jack Harper (Cruise) repairs them, ably assisted by his partner Vicca (Riseborough) and Sally, their supervisor on the Tet, seen only via a video link.

Things are going well and it’s only two weeks till Jack (just for once I’d like a hero who wasn’t called Jack!) and Vicca will leave Earth to join their fellow survivors on the Tet. Jack has doubts, he doesn’t really want to leave Earth, he’s got a secret hideaway where he’s gathered a bunch of artefacts (records, books etc.) plus he’s haunted by dreams of a woman he’s never met.

Then one day an escape pod crashes on Earth, and inside in a statis pod is Julia (Kurylenko) who happens to be the girl Jack’s been dreaming about…

I saw Oblivion in Imax, and the visuals are truly stunning. It’s a beautiful film, full of sleek minimalist future technology. It was filmed in Iceland, and the scenery is gorgeous, and quite different from many things you’ll have seen before; in fact I think better use of the Icelandic locations is made than it was in Prometheus.

Oblivion is a film very aware of its roots, some might say too aware, and it’s filled with call outs to other films, from Planet of the Apes to The Matrix, Independence Day to Wall-E, but whilst some reviewers have focused on its unoriginality, I actually found the familiarity a boon. To be honest it resembles so many other films that, though you think you know what’s going on, you might just be being misdirected, and though some reviewers have called it predictable it actually managed to surprise me in places.

It’s a film of three parts; a sterile, mysterious opening third focusing almost exclusively on Jack and Vicca, a slightly limp middle section once Julia’s awake that feels a little like Mad Max, and a final third where any pretence of mystery is cast aside in favour of dogfights, machine guns and explosions…lots of explosions. I actually liked each bit, even if I did find the middle section the weakest of the three, and I certainly didn’t find the shift from cerebral sci-fi to action film too jarring.

Despite a two hour running time (which isn’t that long these days) this is a film that still takes its time to set the mood and introduce the characters, and isn’t afraid to spend time doing nothing except staring at the desolate landscape, or the tears rolling down Andrea Riseborough’s cheeks.

Cruise is excellent in the lead, and I say that as someone who isn’t always his biggest fan, and though his star persona does overshadow things, he’s a good actor and he gives it his all. Morgan Freeman isn’t asked to do a lot, but his role is at least more of a stretch than the one in Olympus and Fallen. Kurylenko’s beauty adds to the sheen of the film, and whilst not the greatest actress in the world she’s far better than most models who turn to thespianism. The stand out is Andrea Riseborough though, imbuing Vicca with far more depth than most actresses would have, and turning what could have been an unsympathetic, two dimensional character into one we can empathise with. She manages to be cold and fragile yet warm and strong at the same time, an almost haunted look in her eyes as if, on some level, she knows what’s really going on, and hers is probably the most tragic role in the film. She also manages to distract your eye away from Kurylenko in the scenes they share, which is no mean feat. She has a sleek, alien beauty that fits so perfectly within the world Kosinski has created that you almost imagine she was a cgi effect, specially designed just for this film.

Oblivion won’t please everyone. Some will find the opening section tedious, some will be annoyed when the gunfire starts, and some will focus on the DNA the film shares with so many others without considering that, given it isn’t a remake, reboot or sequel, this is actually quite a rare beast, an original, for wont of a better phrase, proper old school sci-fi film, albeit one that isn’t afraid to throw off the cloak of 70’s dystopia in favour of flashy effects and some serious gunplay.

It probably isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, but it’s still better thought out than most films you’ll see this year. Who knew cerebral sci-fi and dumb action could make an effective team.

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