A veteran assigned to extract Earth’s remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.
Year 3, Film #11
THE GOOD: One of Hollywood’s latest fascinations is with apocalyptic futures where the Earth has been destroyed and humanity is on their last breath. It’s big in the young adult films (like The Hunger Games and Divergent) and more generic fare as well (Edge of Tomorrow and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes for example). Oblivion is yet another addition to a rapidly expanding list and yet it still has a lot of originality to offer.
First and foremost is director Joseph Kosinski’s (Tron: Legacy) vision. He excels in two ways with Oblivion: both in how things look physically (design, construction, etc.) but also in how society (or what’s left of it) functions. We’ve all seen images of a “future-world” before in films like Star Trek and Her and have our own image of what a future world would look like. Oblivion fits into this mold while also staying fresh. The sleek designs, heavy use of white, and glossy finishes give the impression of a world designed entirely by Apple down to the last plate, fork, and glass. But while it may look familiar, the ships, weapons, and homes are unlike anything we’ve seen before and Kosinski ensures that down for every single detail we see.
As for the functionality of things, this starts to foray into the story a bit. The film starts out with a narration by Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) explaining that there was a war between Earth and an alien species and now, in the year 2077, humanity has been relocated to Saturn’s moon Titan after destroying the Scavs and Earth in the process. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are the only ones left on Earth to monitor and ensure the safety of the machines harvesting Earth’s oceans that will be used for power and sustenance on Titan.
The first half of the film is very reminiscent of WALL·E in more ways than one. Not only do you have the person who is left behind and tasked with maintenance while humanity is relocated, but very little happens in the beginning. All that happens is you get a feel for what Earth is now like. It’s a deserted place, ravaged by destruction and nuclear explosions. But there’s also signs of life and hope. Not all has been lost yet but the human race has been evacuated. It may just be an hour of Jack Harper wandering around investigating new places and repairing drones, but for a film as futuristic and sci-fi as Oblivion is, I argue that this time and effort is necessary for any type of resolution or ending to be effective. You need a foundation on which you can build before you can bring in the steel and dry wall. And the foundation in Oblivion is the highly detailed, stylized, and visionary world that Joseph Kosinski masterfully constructs.
THE BAD: By the end though, you find a story like a sieve letting much of the good drain out of the film leaving only the chunks of rock behind. That isn’t to say the story is all bad. The twist isn’t entirely predictable but it isn’t shocking as it’s probably meant to be. To have technology as advanced as Jack and Victoria have, in addition to the space station called the Tet assisting them in maintenance, it just leads to questions about why they are truly there and what their purpose is. Yes, it’s to keep the Scavs from destroying their rescue equipment, but why are Jack and Victoria necessary. Why not someone else. Why does Mission Control go offline when the sun sets? This isn’t like a radio blackout when a spaceship is returning from orbit, there is absolutely no reason why Sally (Melissa Leo) can’t hand off controls to someone else at night to make sure they have 24-hour surveillance. These questions and suspicions give you a hint at what the real motive of the film is and while it may not give you the direct answer ahead of time, it certainly prepares you for the twist that comes. The result is unsurprising and leaves you wishing there was just a touch more mystery and puzzlement rather than doubt and confusion.
THE TAKEAWAY: Oblivion delivers a shocking amount of creativity and originality despite being a landscape and story that seems all to familiar. The futuristic world that is designed and brought to life by director Joseph Kosinski is one to behold in amazement and the journey you go on is filled with awe and excitement. Sadly, some of that awe and excitement is lost due to a story filled with questions and holes that lead to a twist and an ending that is partly predictable and has room for improvement.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5