by Christian Becker
A common theme when discussing a newly released science fiction film is how much it pales in comparison to those that came before it. People will often walk out of the theater saying that it wasn’t as good, inventive, or enjoyable as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner or Star Wars. I think it’s just as cliché for people to compare today’s sci-fi movies to those classics as it is for the movies themselves to borrow from them. But there is a big difference between making a tribute or homage to these sci-fi tales of the past and just flat-out ripping them off.
It’s hard to pull off a great sci-fi film. You need to have an intriguing story and emotionally driven characters, coupled with an impressive set of visuals, which is something the genre seems to lack. Everything that has been said about Oblivion leading up to its release sounded like it should have been a classic. A Humans vs. Technology story, directed by the man behind the visually impressive Tron: Legacy, should come with some level of intrigue. Oblivion starts off as a live action Wall-E, as our hero flies his ship from place to place on Earth repairing the drones that have malfunctioned and he is confused by the past he cannot remember and the place that Earth used to be. Sounds good, right? Here we have one of the biggest stars working in Hollywood, a director who clearly has an impressive vision, and a plot about the destruction of Earth. In short, all the pieces were there for this to be remembered as a modern day sci-fi classic but lazy ideas and tired writing made all the difference here.
The visuals of this movie are like a rich, chocolate cake. Really delightful when you first dig into it, but after a while, after having so much, you start to get a stomach ache and suddenly, you are no longer impressed. One of my favorite shots takes place in the home of our hero, Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise). It shows his house in the clouds from a distance, along with a clear sky, revealing the wonders of space. After spectacular visuals like this, the rest of the scenery just doesn’t hold up. Sadly, is it more of the same with the script.
The film starts off with a voice over narration given by Cruise’s character about what happened to our beloved Earth. “We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet”, he states while giving us backstory. Who he is referring to by “they” is never really made clear, but we are to assume it’s another life form. Just based on this premise alone, I was hooked. I love a good sci-fi story, especially one having to do with our planet. So you can imagine my disappointment when the bulk of the film’s story did not live up to its promise. This is not an original science fiction story, nor will it be remembered in the coming years, so you best just get those ideas out of your head right now, because that is what the marketing wants you to believe. It’s hard for me to take a movie’s “twist” seriously when I’ve seen it done better in another movie. In the name of spoiler-prevention, I will not tell you the film I’m referring to, just know that when Oblivion thinks it’s blowing your mind, it’s really not.
The performances are serviceable, but just like the story, nothing spectacular is shown by anyone in the cast. Tom Cruise is quite good in his role and does what he can to keep the show on the road. Nothing to complain about, but he is just your average misinformed super solider. The relationships throughout the film that Jack has with two of the leading woman are very hard to buy. One of them is Victoria (played by Andrea Riseborought), who is Jack’s partner on the mission as a mission control specialist. The other, is a mysterious woman, named Julia (played by Olga Kurylenko), who crash landed on Earth in a ship and may also have the secrets to unlocking Jack’s past. We see moments where he gets close to both women, but a believable relationship is never formed. Julia is only written in so we can have information spoon-feed to us about who Jack used to be before Earth was attacked. She doesn’t add anything to move the narrative forward. Another character that is completely underused is Beech (played by Morgan Freeman), who is a resistance leader of a group of underground humans who are ready to fight and take back the planet. It really upsets me that Morgan Freeman didn’t have enough to do in this movie. You’d think when Morgan Freeman signs onto a role, it would have the substances worthy of him, but instead, anyone could have stepped into this character and it wouldn’t be much different. He’s also only in the film for a total of ten minutes, so if you think you’re going into this movie to see Morgan Freeman, you’ll be as disappointed as I was.
Even after reflecting on all the negative aspects of this film, I have to give credit where credit is due. The visuals, while growing stale after a while, are beautiful to look at. The filmmakers do a wonderful job at pulling you into this world of a desolate and deserted Earth while making it beautiful to look at. This look, along with an original score from the M83, makes it feel authentic. M83’s score fits the story and has a slick techno feel to it. I noticed how great the music was all the way through, which doesn’t happen often when watching a movie. All of this, combined with some very well-made action scenes that make the heart-pound, makes for a fun time if you aren’t looking for a memorable movie experience. When comparing the positives and negatives, the film makes for a semi-fun, in-the-moment experience but not a very memorable one.
As much as I wanted to love this movie and talk about for days after I had seen it, there really isn’t too much to say in terms of groundbreaking material. This is an average sci-fi flick that is possible to have fun with, but if you’ve seen a few other space or futuristic movies, you’ll be rolling your eyes at the things this movie thinks it’s accomplishing. My suggestion: buy the soundtrack and rent the movie, but don’t expect a masterpiece.