Thursday, April 18, 2013

Oblivion




I had a great experience going to the giant IMAX screen at the Jordan Commons Megaplex Theatre on Tuesday for a pre-screening of this film. Tom Cruise is sort of hit-or-miss for me, though I have enjoyed him in the sci-fi genre for the most part. I enjoyed movies like Minority Report and the recent Mission Impossible films a great deal, and my favorite Cruise performance may be the self-deprecating Knight and Day. The trailers for this movie were certainly intriguing, though I couldn't help feeling that they may have given too much away in that initial preview. With that and the less-than-ecstatic reviews that had already been recorded, my expectations were somewhat tempered going into this viewing.

Oblivion begins in the year 2077, where Jack Harper works as a drone repairman on a post-apocalyptic Earth. The opening monologue describes the destruction of the moon, which in turn caused devastation on Earth's surface as tides and weather patterns were irreparably altered. Once the "invasion" began, the human race had no choice but to resort to nuclear warfare, making the surface uninhabitable. While most of the population has vacated the planet, drones continue to sweep the area for any surviving "scavs", though occasionally giving the impression of hostility toward Jack as well. A reasonably curious man, Jack takes note of the strange behavior shown by the drones, though his partner Victoria won't hear a word of it. They are both being monitored by Sally, a woman at the space station observing their progress via video conference. As Jack's suspicions mount, however, his relationship with Victoria suffers, culminating in the discovery of human survivors who have crash-landed from cryosleep. As Jack grows more familiar with one of these survivors, it becomes apparent that not everything is as it seems.

Seeing this film in the IMAX format was a tremendous asset to my appreciation of Oblivion. The screen is so massive and all-encompassing that one can't help but find themselves wrapped up in the story being played out before them. It also helps that the visual effects in the movie are some of the best I've seen recently, though some of the design aspects are derivative of other popular works of science fiction. Anyone who has seen Independence Day, for example, will certainly see some glaring similarities in this movie's climactic scenes.

Having said that, the film has some very interesting concepts that are being explored throughout the narrative. Just like one of Cruise's previous sci-fi films, Minority Report, there are mind-bending themes and twists that spark intellectual discussion once the credits roll. If I didn't know any better, I might think this movie is an adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick novel or short story. It's almost a sort of amalgam of several different aspects of each of his stories, pulling them all together in an intriguing, yet not wholly original sci-fi action spectacular. Were this film in the hands of a more experienced director, I think it could have balanced its many plot points far more effectively and produced a more satisfying story.

Oblivion is a good film, but I was kind of hoping for a great film. With such promising material, I think a few little tweaks during the screenwriting process might have resulted in a more coherent whole. Despite its problems, this is still a very entertaining film, with plot twists and thought-provoking ideas to spare. The visuals alone deserve theatrical viewing, so I recommend this film to less demanding fans of science fiction. Oblivion gets a solid three stars.

OBLIVION is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity