Thursday, 25 April 2013

Hardly A Review: Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion is the latest Tom Cruise vehicle which hit cinemas April 10th. The year is 2077 and Earth has been ravaged by war with invading aliens. The majority of remaining humans reside in orbit in a giant space station while a few remain on Earth gathering what little resources are left before the planet is abandoned. Jack Harper (Cruise) is one such person, servicing machinery and protecting it from the alien "Scavs" while haunted by visions of a mysterious woman. When a ship crash lands containing a human trapped in stasis, Harper begins to learn everything is not as it seems, neither for him or the world.

So, what did I think? Not bad, but nowhere near good. In many ways it felt like the writers tried to cram in as many typical sci-fi plot ideas and themes as possible, particularly in a frantic second half. Indeed, towards the end it felt much like they were trying to cram in whatever they thought might vaguely fit, much like (speaking from personal experience) the panicked rush at the end of an exam. It attempted to be grandiose in scale and overreached itself, resulting in too many themes being underdeveloped and unexplored. Particularly, the themes about humanity and personal identity could have been developed in to a far more absorbing film instead of throwaway sci-fi guff.

I find Cruise's performances can be quite hit and miss but here I feel he worked well with what he was given. Likewise Andrea Riseborough, playing Victoria, Jack's companion and colleague, probably put in the strongest performance and also I think had the best written character in relation to her role in the film. Morgan Freeman, as a leader of a group of stranded humans, was wasted and his character felt the most jarringly underdeveloped considering the role he plays in the film.

The post-apocalyptic vision the film attempts to convey is impressively shown in the wide landscape shots, with reference points to current landmarks aiding believability. These gorgeous visuals were easily the most impressive part of the film in my eyes. This contrasted jarringly with some ropey close-up work when characters were in vehicles and it was impossible to suspend my disbelief. It always appeared obvious that characters were sat in a rig in a studio in front of a blue screen.

I think for a story with such grand ambition, film was not the right medium to properly do it justice. I'd had enough after one hour, the film lasted 2 hours, felt like 3 hours and probably needed at least 4 hours to properly develop the story. The increased time available over a TV season (16-20 hours in the US) would have allowed a better pacing and more time to develop the themes and plot lines. It may even work as a video game in a style similar to the Mass Effect series.
If you are going to borrow so liberally from the genre without creating any new ideas then you must do it well or suffer in comparison. Oblivion missed the mark here and was a set of potentially interesting plot ideas that drowned in a sea of mediocrity. Overall, Oblivion gets a "meh" out of 5 from me, watch it but don't pay for it (I mean on TV! I am not condoning piracy!).


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