April 25, 2013

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‘Oblivion’ shoots for the stars, falls flat

Tom Cruise is effective as the hero, as he always is.  While Cruise isn’t the best actor in Hollywood, he exudes a certain energy that helps pull the audience into the film.

By John Devore

“Oblivion” might have been a great sci-fi film.  The concept is rich – there is a dense background here that really could have broken from convention into something special and thoughtful.  The visuals are stunning and the post-apocalyptic world is perfectly crafted.  The setting shows the natural world retaking the planet, creating dramatic valleys and soaring plains from the ruins of New York City.  It’s at once a hopeful view of the tenacity of the Earth and a sobering reminder of humanity’s relative unimportance.  None of this has much to do with the story.  This serves only as set dressing to a fairly typical science fiction trope of war and alien invasion.  The film aspires to be more than it is, which is admirable, but suffers from a stilted script that only scratches the surface of the universe it occupies.

The film is based on an unpublished graphic novel written by director Joseph Kosinski. Set in 2077, the Earth has been rendered mostly uninhabitable by a war that occurred 60 some odd years prior to the opening scene.  An alien species known as the “Scavs” appears out of nowhere to destroy the moon, which causes massive earthquakes and floods.  They then launch an invasion to clean up the remainder of humanity.  The Earth fights back, ultimately winning the war, using nuclear weapons to destroy the enemy, but severely damaging the Earth in the process.  The surviving humans then relocate to Titan, a moon of Saturn.  Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) maintains the drones that patrol the near empty Earth to protect massive engines that drain the oceans in order to provide energy for the Titan settlement.  This is all revealed within the first ten minutes of the film, prompting me to ask a number of questions.  How is it possible that humanity has advanced so far in such a short time?  How does sea water equal the energy needed for survival on Titan?  If Jack Harper can walk around on the surface of the planet and survive, why doesn’t humanity just move back?  To the film’s credit, all of these questions were answered with a certain amount of logic.  The film does a good job of remaining consistent with itself, especially considering the premise.

Tom Cruise is effective as the hero, as he always is.  While Cruise isn’t the best actor in Hollywood, he exudes a certain energy that helps pull the audience into the film.  But even his best performance can’t overcome the wooden dialogue and mediocre attempts at characterization.  This is a solitary film, one that relies heavily on Cruise to make it believable.  In order to convey the emotion necessary to drive the movie forward, he needs more to work with than simple one-liners.  Part of problem may come from the adaptation of the graphic novel.  Dialogue in that medium can be terse and melodramatic, which is more forgivable when read than when heard.  Whatever the reason, the writing in the film is flat, which distracts from the overall story.  Beyond this, at times the actions sequences are too much like video game action, with heroes carefully aiming shots at the glowing targets.  I almost expected the bad guys to start flashing when they were low on hit points.

Unfortunately, the poor storytelling made the film seem longer than it was.  I can say the third act was better than the first two – it answered my questions and brought me back into the film.  But once I knew what was going on, it turned out I didn’t care that much.  The film never takes any risks – it is an amalgamation of several different sci-fi films and thus doesn’t establish its own identity.  There is a good movie here but the filmmakers weren’t able to find it.

April 25, 2013

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