We review Oblivion – Derivative, illogical script marrs visually stunning sci-fi romp

7 min read
5

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There’s an old local adage that goes “mooi van ver, maar ver van mooi” which is just about as perfect a description for director Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion as you can get. Kosinski proved with the greatest Daft Punk music video ever made aka Tron Legacy, that he possesses a visual imagination that is second to none, and Oblivion is that imagination at it’s very best.

You will dislocate your mandibles and distend your eyeballs at some of the startlingly real but still fantastical looking sci-fi imagery that gets conjured up by Kosinski, cinematographer Claudio Miranda (last seen being handed a naked, golden man with a sword for his work on Life of Pi) and the VFX wizards at Pixomondo. And then you’ll stretch the physical limits of your face even more as Kosinski sends you careening into, around and, with the help of some future weaponry, through these surreal landscapes in a series of white-knuckled action sequences.

It’s all super thrilling stuff from the director and his team, and will keep your buttcheeks firmly rooted to your seat. Which is all very convenient since the moment the magpie factor wears off, and you start to actually think about the hows and whys of what you’re seeing, it all collapses rather spectacularly.

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To start off with, the premise certainly is an intriguing one: About 60 years from now, some ET’s, commonly known as Scavs (short for “Scavengers”) show up on our galactic doorstep, eyeballing our planet. Naturally, as is the Earthling way, we smash them in their alien faces, but not before they destroy our moon, the results of which wrecks Earth’s environment to the point that all the surviving humans pack themselves into some giant spaceships and head off to start a new colony on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Left behind though, we have the very “effective team” of technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his communications officer/romantic interest Victoria (Andrea Gainsborough). From their art-deco home in Tower 49 in what is left of New York City, the pair serve as glorified janitors as they oversee the hydrorigs, massive machines being used to drain whatever available resources are left on Earth, which are then to be ferried to the Tet (no childish Afrikaans jokes please, that’s why we have Lourens), a giant tetrahedral space station hovering in the atmosphere. Once their task is complete, Jack and Victoria will join the other humans on the Tet – like their mission controller Sally (Melissa Leo – and fly off to live in deep space Shangri La with everybody else.

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But it’s not all skinny dipping in fancy pools and sunset flights in futuristic aircraft for Jack and Victoria, as there are still remnants of the Scavs on the surface who are in the annoying habit of attacking/sabotaging the hydrorigs and the drones that are supposed to protect them. This keeps laser-rifle slinging repairman Jack rather busy, that is when he’s not too preoccupied having weird, impossible flashbacks about meeting a woman (Olga Kurylenko) on the Empire State Building before the war. Doubly impossible due to the fact that Jack and Victoria had their memories wiped 5 years previously as a security precaution in case they get captured by the Scavs.

But after a series of mysterious events, culminating in Jack finding a crashed spaceship with the very woman he’s been dreaming about on-board, he starts to suspect that something isn’t quite right.

Now that may seem like a lot of story to divulge, but that’s mostly all covered in Tom Cruise voiceover that kicks off this romp; there’s still plenty of story coming. And there lies the problem.

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It’s very hard to discuss specifics about Oblivion‘s script without going into spoiler territory, so I will just save myself the consternation and say that absolutely NOTHING about Oblivion‘s story makes sense. Once you discover what’s really going on, you realize that everything you’ve seen/been told is nothing but a rather beautiful collection of plot chasms (holes don’t suffice) filled with bad logic (If you don’t care too much for spoilers, head on over to FilmSchoolRejects, where they discuss in detail the exact things I have a problem with). Not that figuring out what’s going on will actually be too difficult for anybody with even the slightest movie knowledge seeing as the screenplay from Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt is essentially just a copy-paste patchwork of ideas from major sci-fi movies of the last few years.

Luckily though, it would appear that somebody forgot tell the three main cast members that they’re actually acting with inferior material, as Cruise, Riseborough and Leo all completely crush their roles. Riseborough in particular offers a layered, complex performance that completely elevates the script she’s been given and totally justifies all the “one to watch” hype surrounding her, while Cruise proves that despite already having clocked in at half a century of couch jumping, he is still quite the charismatic lead as he carries both the action man and dramatic bits incredibly well.

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On the supporting side of the coin, Kurylenko does a decent job as Julia, the other lady in Jack’s life, but she clearly comes off second best in the thespian catfight with Riseborough. Morgan Freeman also shows up, doing such an uncanny Morpheus impersonation that I expected him to start handing out primary coloured pills, while Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau shows he’s just as… shall we say, handy… with a laser rifle as he is a sword.

And all his and his co-stars’ laser rifling and starfighter dogfighting are all accompanied by the electronic genius of French musical duo M83. They had quite the task to live up to, since Kosinski’s collaboration with that other French electronic duo, Daft Punk, produced one of the best soundtracks of the last decade in Tron: Legacy. Do they live up to it? Not quite, but they damn sure get close though as they produce a score that’s a bit more subdued than Daft Punk’s efforts but still a very worthy addition to any film buff/muso’s collection.

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But that story! The film can be immensely entertaining, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re too busy burning out your visual cortex with brilliance to notice the film’s plot or lack thereof. In fact, while watching the film, I myself was just too glossy eyed to engage the grey gooey bits at first. But just like in my case, once you do just can’t look past how completely nonsensical and derivative the script is.

This is especially frustrating when you consider that it came from the same minds that gave us things like Toy Story, The Departed, Dead Like Me and more. How none of them thought to go “Wait a minute, this doesn’t add up” is completely beyond me. Kosinski and co show off such an insane attention to detail when it comes to the films’ superlative production design, visual effects and action set pieces, and the primary cast all provide such strong performances that it’s gravely disappointing how Oblivion‘s script lets it down.

Last Updated: May 6, 2013

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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