‘Oblivion’ well-made, but predictable

By Frank Ruggiero (frank@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: Apr. 24, 2013 | Modified: Apr. 24, 2013
‘Oblivion’ well-made, but predictable

Tom Cruise stars in 'Oblivion.'

Inside “Oblivion” is a decent sci-fi movie.

Actually, make that half a dozen decent sci-fi movies.

While beautifully filmed, meticulously crafted and well-acted, “Oblivion” reaches for the stars and falls short on originality.

It’s an inspired film, in the sense that director and writer Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) takes inspiration from a robust catalogue of brilliant science-fiction movies – so much so that even naming them would serve as a major spoiler.

So, let’s just compare it to Disney-Pixar’s “WALL*E” in that it involves robots and salvaging.
It’s the year 2077, and Jack Harper (Tom Cruise, “A Few Good Men”) is one of the last humans on Earth, tasked with mopping up the cataclysmic aftermath of an extraterrestrial war. Earth ultimately won, he explains, but at the cost of an uninhabitable planet. As a result, the remnants of humanity have moved to the Saturn moon of Titan.

But there’s something left on Earth. As Jack continues his introductory monologue, we learn that the planet is now populated by “Scavs,” aliens who survived the war. Every day, Jack patrols the ruins of civilization, protecting the robotic equipment that’s salvaging the planet’s last remaining resources, while his partner and lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, “W.E.”), works mission control from above – literally.

The couple lives in a high-tech tower above the clouds, where they report nightly to mission commander Sally (Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”), who operates from the Tet, a mammoth, tetrahedron-shaped space station orbiting Earth. Once Jack and Victoria complete their tour of duty, they’re supposed to travel to the Tet, from which they’ll journey to Titan.

Victoria is counting down the days – two weeks, to be exact – but Jack still harbors an indelible connection to his home planet, made stronger by a recurring dream, featuring a mysterious but familiar woman. He savors his trips to the surface, his curiosity sparked by the artifacts and landmarks of a bygone era.

It’s curiosity that turns his world upside down, however, as he encounters other human survivors, including Beech (Morgan Freeman, “Seven”), who’s plotting to destroy the Tet. To make matters more complicated, an unknown spacecraft crashes to the surface, carrying Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who is literally the woman of Jack’s dreams. Naturally, nothing is as it seems, and Jack begins to question everything he’s been led to believe.

The problem is that the big reveal isn’t much of a surprise. While “Oblivion” boasts a few decent twists, there’s an ever-present feeling of “been there, done that.” It’s not that Kosinski is ripping off the films and tropes that served as inspiration. He obviously adores the material. However, his approach in paying homage is a little too heavy-handed, making “Oblivion” seem more like the sum of others’ parts.

But these are quality parts, and, fortunately, they fit well into Kosinski’s framework. “Oblivion” is, at its heart, an entertaining film, and those unacquainted with its influences should find plenty to enjoy.
Stylistically, “Oblivion” shines, with stellar production design and Oscar-worthy visual effects serving as effective distractions from its shortcomings.

And although the material could be stronger, Cruise makes the best of it, turning in a stand-out performance that invests viewers in an otherwise archetypical character and his story – even if it’s one we’ve heard before.

“Oblivion,” rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language and some sensuality/nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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