**1/2 (out of 5)
April 19, 2013
Tom Cruise as JACK
Morgan Freeman as BEECH
Olga Kurylenko as JULIA
Andrea Riseborough as VICTORIA
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as SYKES
Melissa Leo as SALLY
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’m a huge fan of science fiction, and that is probably part of the problem I had with “Oblivion.” The mix of derivative writing and brilliant production design really put me in a quandary with the film. On one hand, it was a visual masterpiece. On the other hand, it was a sad disappointment.
To make matters worse, I was quite impressed with Joseph Kosinski’s previous film “Tron: Legacy.” I grew up with “Tron,” and seeing his slick, modern update to the story counted as one of my favorite moments in the theaters in 2010. Sure, I knew it has severe pacing and story problems, but it was just so damn cool to watch.
I was hoping for at least the same thing with “Oblivion.”
I suppose I did get it to some degree. The look of the film is fantastic, and on the IMAX screen, it really works. The visual effects are mind-blowing and so realistic you will likely forget they are, in fact, generated in a computer. Similarly, the action sequences (when they actually get around to happening) are thrilling and exciting, if not sometimes apparent re-shoots of moments from “Tron: Legacy.” (If you don’t believe me on that point, compare the canyon chase in this movie to the light-jet chase in “Tron: Legacy.”)
Though, what “Oblivion” reminds me of is a second novel from an author who made a sudden splash with his or her first. Instead of delivering something new, the writer digs an old unpublished work from his or her writing trunk and takes the opportunity to get it out there for the readers.
The problem is that while the author (or in this case, filmmaker) is in love with the piece, it features less refined and more amateurish content. In essence, there’s a reason why this movie wasn’t made before “Tron: Legacy” put Kosinski on the map… or grid.
The story, and the characters, and the pacing is where “Oblivion” breaks down. It’s not the cast, and it’s not the design of the film. It’s all that other “stuff” that makes a movie a movie, and unlike “Tron: Legacy,” no amount of slick production design and eye-popping visual effects will change that.
That story is one that I’ve seen in many different pieces of science fiction literature and movies over the years. Tom Cruise stars as Jack, a custodian of sorts on Earth 60 years after a war made the planet uninhabitable. With his memory wiped, he and his partner/lover monitor and provide maintenance to drones that protect giant processors that are supposedly cleaning up the surface for the eventual return of the human race. However, when entities on the surface known as “scavs” (short for scavengers) bring down an ancient spacecraft, Jack starts to uncover startling secrets about himself and his mission.
I could list the dozen or so movies that “Oblivion” mimics, but to do so would offer some pretty hefty spoilers. Suffice to say that there is very little original thought put into this movie. Call it homage or call it a rip-off. Either way, the script for “Oblivion” is needlessly derivative, which makes it much less of a movie than it should be.
In addition to the copy-cat nature of “Oblivion,” it’s pacing is so rough and bumpy that it’s at times hard to follow. It swerves from slick sci-fi to gritty post-apocalyptic film and back again with very little notice. Plot points are ignored or restructured in the middle of the film, making for a surprisingly confusing story that should be as simple as ever to tell considering how unoriginal it is.
But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the movie to a degree. And that’s not to say I won’t watch the movie again when it hits Blu-ray, and enjoy the heck out of it on some level. It’s just not worth the cash to brave annoying theater crowds and pay confiscatory IMAX surcharges.