The new Tom Cruise sci-fi movie “Oblivion” recycles some sci-fi tropes and creates a villain that looks like the love-child of the HAL9000 & the alien sphere-thingy from Sphere. But like I said, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Yes there does seem to be some serious pattern exhaustion in a lot of the sci-fi movies that Hollywood cranks out these days. It seems to be endemic of most of pop culture from fashion to music as well, with remakes, sequels and reboots permeating everywhere. “Oblivion” manages to work within these confines to come up with a few nice twists and variations upon these to stay somewhat fresh. The film is another entrant into the dystopian cannon of Destroyed Earth Cinema (“Blade Runner”, “I Am Legend“, etc).
“Oblivion’s” back story is handled through the usual route of credit narration sequence. We learn that the Scavengers (Scavs) destroyed the Moon and almost destroyed the Earth too. We won the war but lost Earth. This was all roughly 60 years ago as the film is set in 2077. The humans had to flee Earth setting up shop on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Left on Earth are huge floating machines that are extracting water and resources the humans need on their new home. The humans have sent down small skeleton crews to watch over the extractors to keep them from being destroyed by the Scavs, who have been starting to increase their attacks.
Enter Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) as Tech 49, a drone repairman who lives in a base in the sky with his communications officer & romantic partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Jack’s mission is to fix and repair all of the battle drones guarding the extractors from the remaining hordes of Scavs left on Earth. Their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) keeps in constant contact with them from a nearby space station making sure that the two of them remain an “effective couple” in their last two weeks before they head to Titan. Both Jack and Victoria have had their memories wiped, which we are led to believe so they can focus on their tasks guarding the resource extractors. The trouble is Jack keeps having a dream about a stunning brunette (Olga Kurylenko) whom he meets on top of the Empire State Building. These dreams haunt Jack but his wiped memory keeps him from piecing it all together.
One day Jack is out fixing a downed drone when he sees a small spaceship crash. When he goes over to investigate the crash he sees a handful of pods with humans in deep sleep. He stops dead in his tracks at the last pod-it contains the woman from his dreams, Julia. Jack manages to save her from being killed by the drones which are supposed to kill only Scavs yet it laid waste to the other 4 human survivors. When Julia comes to she knows Jack yet also she understands something is off about him. Now Victoria is upset that Jack is jeopardizing the last few days of the mission by bringing back Julia to their skypad. Needless to say, going much farther into the story would be wandering into Spoilersville. Let it be known that Morgan Freeman is in this picture, he’s right there on the one-sheet but one cannot dive to deep into his role without spoilers, so we shall stop right here.
Director Joseph Kosinski (“TRON:Legacy”) wrote the original graphic novel that the film is based from with Arvid Nelson. Kosinski did a good job of creating the world of “Oblivion“. The insect-like pod plane that Jack flies around is very cool with it’s 360 degree revolving cockpit. The sleek, modernist skypad even has a deluxe swimming pool to go with all of its minimal, modern furniture. (Side note-when seeing these shining sci-fi surfaces, one has to wonder what technologies were invented to keep them so clean.) Filming with a 4K camera setup and showing on IMAX really gives the film a startlingly level of detail and immediacy. It does tend to slowly wander through its narrative, a usual problem with a film, yet “Oblivion” doesn’t suffer from it. In fact as several of the film twists are revealed, the languorous pace allows one to ponder how the film is very drone-centered. Living in 2013 America one cannot escape the fact that the country is currently deploying drones all over the world in our quixotic Global War on A Feeling Called Terror.
Tom Cruise remains one of those movie stars who manages to make the audience forget all about his eccentricities and love of Scientology. You can say what you want about him but at least Cruise usually picks somewhat decent scripts and interesting directors. You don’t often find him in the aggressively brain-dead films like “Transformers” or “GI:Joe”. He is starting to give off the Casey Kasem vibe too as he mostly appears to be the same age as he was in Risky Business. Maybe those e-meters and Thetans are onto something. Go into the film to enjoy it for what it is, and ponder the usage of the drones.