Oblivion

Oblivion

 

This past weekend I had planned on seeing a movie called The Wall (Die Wand in German) as part of FilmFest DC 2013, Washington DC’s annual celebration of foreign films. It was about a woman who finds herself cut off from civilization when an invisible wall suddenly surrounds her as she’s hiking through the countryside. Unfortunately I left my house later than I should have and made a series of poor public transportation decisions that caused me to be twenty-five minutes away from the theater at the film’s start time. As there are no trailers before FilmFest movies, arriving twenty-five minutes late would have meant missing a quarter of the film. That would be like starting your average book on page fifty. No thank you. I saw Oblivion instead.

That’s not the best mindset to walk into a movie with: disappointment at missing the movie you really wanted to see. So while the trailers played I made a conscious effort to ignore that feeling. I reminded myself that it’s 2013 and that I’d probably be able to stream The Wall from my computer within months. It helped that once Oblivion actually started, it pulled me in quickly, but not after giving me a bit of concern at the beginning.

It opens with a voiceover from Jack Harper (played by Tom Cruise) explaining the events that have happened on Earth over the past 60 years: Decades ago an alien race called Scavengers, or simply Scavs, started a war with the humans for Earth’s resources after their planet became uninhabitable. They destroyed our moon, which apparently really messed things up on Earth. Tsunami’s galore! The humans managed to defeat the Scavs, but in the process ended up nuking the planet into near oblivion. Now in 2077 Jack and his partner/lover, Vica (short for Victoria, played by Andrea Riseborough) are the only two humans still on Earth; everyone else is aboard a ship called the Tet. It’s waiting to relocate the human population to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Jack and Vica’s job is to maintain the heavily armed drones that protect the giant water-harvesting machines that hover above the oceans ceaselessly sucking up its waters. Why do the machines need protecting? Pockets of Scavs remain, determined to thwart the humans’ efforts.

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All of this Jack explains to us in the first couple of minutes. It’s delivered with more emotion than I just provided, and it’s played over some amazing scenic shots of a desolate Earth, so the sum effect of the voiceover isn’t a negative one, but still, the fact that they have to deliver so much exposition right away worried me. It indicates a lack of confidence in the filmmakers’ ability to explain things organically in the story. What puzzles me is that Jack later provides a similar summary of events to a character, thus making the opening narration unnecessary. Maybe the filmmakers were worried about leaving the audience in the dark too long, but I think the mystery of what actually happened to our planet would have left us hungry for answers and would have had us even more invested in the film. Moving on.

This movie is beautiful. Gorgeous. A deadened planet has never looked so stunning: from the frosty mountains to the devastated football stadium to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, which is now (somehow) at ground level. It should be depressing, but it’s not. Earth seems to have found a strange serenity with all its people gone.

Oblivion - Destroyed Pentagon
Oblivion - Flooded Washington, DC

Oblivion - Water Harvesters

You’ll want to see this on the largest screen possible, as we get a lot of amazing aerial shots of the planet as Jack flies around in his dragon-fly-shaped aircraft, which itself is quite a marvel to witness. It’s all white chrome and glass, with smooth round surfaces, and it maneuvers like some sort of winged acrobat. It’s no wonder Jack spends so much of the movie inside of it. Plus he and Vica live high above Earth’s surface in a high-tech home/work station, complete with a glass pool, and as such his air-bug-thing is the only way to get to and from there.

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At the start of the movie the couple only has two weeks left before their mission is over and they can return to the Tet with everyone else. Vica is excited, but nostalgic Jack isn’t sure he’s really ready to say goodbye to Earth yet. And he may not even get the chance to if the Scavs have it their way. Lately they’ve been increasing their rate of attack on the drones and on him.

It doesn’t help things that Jack has been having troubling dreams recently. They are about a woman he’s never met but feels like he knows. Most days he can’t shake the feeling that something’s not quite right. And then when a ship falls out of the sky, a ship that contains that very same woman of his dreams (played by Olga Kurylenko), Jack doesn’t know what the hell is going on. The more they talk, the more he finds out how little he knows. I guess you could say he’s totally oblivious. I wouldn’t say that because it’s corny, but you could.

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I wish I had known as little as Jack did going into the movie. At its heart Oblivion is a mystery, which means there are a considerable amount of twists, most of which I didn’t see coming, but some of which I did thanks to the trailers. They give away too much, and once you see them, you already know more about the world Jack lives in than he does. I’ll explain what I mean by that, but you should know that explaining it will involve mild spoilers, though no more spoilers than are in the trailer. So if you haven’t seen a preview for the movie already, I’d advise skipping the next couple of paragraphs. I’ll let you know when the coast is clear.

***MINOR SPOILER WARNING***

The trailer for Oblivion states, “Sixty years ago Earth was attacked. We won the war but they destroyed half the planet. Everyone’s been evacuated. Nothing human remains.” This is more or less what Jack states in his opening voiceover, and it’s supposed to make us think that he and Vica are the only remaining people on the planet. As the trailer continues we see that they actually are not the only people there. Morgan Freeman is there too! (And some other shadowy people.) Now if you went into this movie without having seen the trailer, you wouldn’t have known there was anyone else on the planet until the moment Jack discovers it, and I imagine it would have been a delightful surprise, the kind that makes you go, “Oh snap!” (or whatever your equivalent colloquialism is).

I get the reasoning behind spoiling this secret. Morgan Freeman is a big name. Hell I’ve been calling him Morgan Freeman instead of his character’s name because he’s Morgan-frickin-Freeman. His name gives the movie more clout than Tom Cruise’s alone. And the studios want as many people to see this movie as possible. Plus, it would have been harder to market the movie if you only showed three characters. The plot would have been more difficult to convey in commercials, and viewers wouldn’t have known what to expect, which translates to smaller box office numbers. Still, I believe that had they kept Freeman’s presence a secret it actually would have encouraged more word of mouth recommendations. Who doesn’t love sending a friend to a movie with awesome twists?

***SPOILERS OVER***

Run, Jack, run!

Tom Cruise gives exactly the kind of performance you’d expect. His Jack Harper has a fearless sense of adventure and a strong moral code. He’s your average good guy (which is actually kind of puzzling for reasons I can’t explain without spoiling the movie). Cruise plays him earnestly and gives it his all, and yes, he gets to run. This kind of role isn’t a stretch for him. Jack Harper doesn’t feel a whole lot different than John Anderton in Minority Report. He’s just older. Could he have been more of a complex character? Sure, especially if they did more with that moral code I mentioned. Still it’s a good performance and a good movie. The other actors were all fine, but they didn’t have much to do. M.F. is pretty much wasted in his role. This is a Tom Cruise movie, and if you like him doing his usual thing and if you like sci-fi and if you like mysteries, you’ll enjoy this film.

My Rating

I liked It

Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy)
Writer: Joseph Kosinski (Oblivion [Comic Book]), Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3, Brave), and Arvid Nelson (Oblivion [Comic Book])

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Sources: Filmofilia, IMDB, BusinessInsider

 

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