starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurlylenko, Melissa Leo
screenplay by Joseph Kosinski and Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt
directed by Joseph Kosinski
by Walter Chaw If you're going to see Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion, you should see it in IMAX. Oh, who'm I kidding? There's no good way to see Kosinski's sci-fi-lite follow-up to Tron: Legacy, starring Emperor Thetan Tom Cruise as a future-Jiffy Lube mechanic jetting around post-bellum Earth circa 2077, fixing automated drones programmed to kill alien "Scavs" that have taken over the empty planet. Following? It doesn't matter. Via soulful voiceover, Cruise's Jack Harper informs us that a war has decimated Earth and that all the surviving humans have fled to Titan (that's a moon around Saturn, Jack explains), leaving behind only Jack and his lady-pal Vika (Andrea Riseborough) to tend to giant sea-water fusion engines that provide energy to our ragtag, fugitive fleet. No, it already doesn't make much sense, except that it's sort of like something L. Ron Hubbard would have written--but that's gotta be a coincidence, right? Anyway, seems that Jack has built a special cabin in the woods despite Earth being uninhabitable due to the nuclear holocaust we unleashed to free ourselves of alien enslavement...or is it? Irradiated, that is. Earth, I mean. And what of these strange memories of the Empire State Building that memory-wiped Jack keeps having, where he and supermodel Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko exchange doe-eyes and sweet nothings? If you've seen any science-fiction film worth a crap in the last twenty years, you've already seen a better version of Oblivion, I promise you.
Oblivion is packed with dumb, distracting, obfuscating moments, ranging from the wisdom of Jack dragging around a giant casket to strap onto his little flying machine to the unevenness of alien and future technology that allows for some miracles (advanced DNA trackers, for instance) but not others (the inability for said miracles to discern a final twist). A note here that the credits list a pair of twins as "Julia's Child," which I read for a long time as "Julia Child," which would have been delightful. Oblivion has a lot of loud action moments that lack weight because we haven't invested in any of the characters, plus a few arresting visuals that suggest the world's most expensive adaptation of a Michael Whelan painting. Cruise-ites will be glad to see liberal usage of such Cruise-isms as Running Hard™, Being Descended on a Wire™, and Getting Facially Disfigured™; and true science-fiction fans will be...too smart to have wasted their time. You'll all be glad to know, however, that in the future there's still the soundtrack to The Big Chill--on vinyl, even; that there's Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World," meaning liberal arts and dormitories haven't disappeared; and that people still pretend to read Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome. (Yeah, of the many, many movies of which this one is humiliatingly derivative, the most humiliating is Equilibrium.) Oblivion is a film of big ideas, none of which are its own. It's not a prerequisite, certainly, that a movie be about something, but it would be nice. Really, all Oblivion ends up being is the one where Tom Cruise finally fights himself, placing it alongside monuments of genre cinema like Double Impact, Twin Dragons, The One, and The Parent Trap. Huzzah! Originally published: April 19, 2013.
by Bill Chambers Oblivion is derivative and hollow, yes, but I gained new appreciation for it as a handmade object through the making-of featurettes on Universal's BD release. (Falling under the umbrella header of "Promise of a New World," these segments run a combined total of 48 minutes and have been tersely titled "Destiny," "Voyage," "Combat," "Illusion," and "Harmony.") For instance, the backdrop outside Tom Cruise's apartment in the sky is not greenscreen, but rather an old-fashioned cyclorama spanning 42 feet and given a next-gen update via 38 synchronized HiDef projectors beaming footage shot in 4K on a mountain peak in Hawaii. The effect was astonishingly seamless and enabled the actors to reflect and refract the light from their surroundings in a totally organic way. The production also designed a full-scale bubbleship with all the bells and whistles--although it couldn't fly, obviously (that's what gimbals are for)--and sent Tommy, sans stunt double (the common refrain of any documentary about a Cruise actioner), careening down the ashy Icelandic landscape on a jerry-rigged motorcycle. In B-roll, we see him think fast by gracefully leaping to safety as the bike wipes out; he looks less lucky when a wire-drop deposits him on a hard floor with a plop that would gravely injure other men his age. Of course, Oblivion isn't a Michel Gondry movie and does feature its fair share of CGI, which gets its due in "Combat" (about the Cruise-on-Cruise brawl) and especially "Illusion." Nothing you haven't heard before, though I did marvel at Digital Domain's effects preparation now including land surveying! One thing I wish were elucidated is the reasoning behind F/X house Pixomodo digitally replacing Cruise in an early shot instead of compositing him into said shot. It seems a waste of resources, and an unnecessary invitation to scrutiny.
The fifth and final instalment, "Harmony," throws the spotlight on composers M83, to whose music director Joseph Kosinski wrote the "graphic novel" on which Oblivion is based. Oh yeah, you'll hear a lot of guff about this thing, unpublished and unfinished as far as anybody knows; I feel like you shouldn't be allowed to put "based on the X by Y" in the credits if the X in question largely exists inside Y's head. Still, Kosinski commissioned some pretty illustrations for it, and they along with every sci-fi movie of the last 50 years served as the basis for the picture's production design. Last among the video-based extras is a selection of four HD deleted scenes, each approximately a minute in length. Nothing eventful here, save some foreshadowing of the miracle medikit doodad that comes out of nowhere to save a character's life in the finished film.
As for that score, it's presented in isolation from the rest of the mix in glorious 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, while another track houses a feature-length yakker from Kosinski and Cruise. This is my first time hearing Cruise in commentary mode or listening to him go on at length at all, really, and I'm not sure I expected him to be so low key. Still, he's a chatterbox, and predictably generous with praise for his collaborators--albeit in a way that can feel reflexively political. He correctly identifies co-star Andrea Riseborough as a "chameleon," however: she's all but unrecognizable from movie to movie. As for Oblivion itself, the 2.39:1, 1080p transfer, generously appointed 37 of the disc's 50 gigabytes, is crisp and slick, rich in vivid pastel hues. While the Mac-store sleekness of the movie's aesthetic will probably date it, it greases the transition to small-screen HD, and these days I'm grateful for an image that hasn't been colour-timed into, er, oblivion. Photographed in HiDef, the picture is nonetheless cinematic, with a thin membrane of noise taking the place of grain in low-lit interiors. The attendant 7.1 DTS-HD MA track improves on what was for me a muddy-sounding theatrical experience, striking a better balance between the pulsating M83 cuts and general chaos of the set-pieces. Yet I was perhaps unfairly expecting foundation-threatening bass that never arrived, and Olga Kurylenko's voice is distractingly dislocated and mousy. Maybe the problem is that I only have a 5.1 receiver. HiDef trailers for Furious 6, Despicable Me 2, Dead in Tombstone, and SyFy's "Defiance" cue up on startup, while the packaging naturally supplements the Blu-ray with DVD and UV copies of Oblivion.