Science Fiction is a genre that is in my blood. I am definitely someone who has seen it all, in some form. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and many other shows and movies with my parents. If there was a sci-fi show on at the time, most likely I was watching it with my mom. I’ve seen thousands of shows and movies, grabbed up many a comic book, etc. The reason I mention this is because I’ve seen it all. All the twists and plot devices you can think of. Which brings me to this review.
The world of Oblivion is Earth. The year is 2077. The planet was ravaged 60 years ago in a war with an alien race known simply as the Scavs. The film opens showing us most of the destruction in the former U.S. while the main character describes what happened. Even though we won the war and forced the invaders out, the Earth has been damaged beyond repair. Vast radioactive wastelands and devastating destruction have forced us to leave. Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, one of two people left on the planet. Along-side Victoria, his partner and wife, they act as a repair team for a fleet of orb-like drones meant to kill any remaining Scavs and protect the last of the huge machines that convert sea water into energy for The Tet, a massive space station orbiting Earth that houses the rest of the human race. Jack and Victoria, played by the statuesque Andrea Riseborough, have two weeks left on Earth. Once all of the Earth’s oceans have been converted into energy they can join the rest of humanity on The Tet. From there they will travel to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, to live happily ever after.
Jack has some secrets though. Although having his memory wiped upon starting his job, he keeps dreaming about a woman he doesn’t know in a time he can’t possibly have seen. His dreams have him walking through New York City before the war; a time in which he wasn’t even born yet. On top of that, it seems like he isn’t as enthusiastic to leave Earth as his wife is…and he has some personal reasons behind that.
One day during a routine trip to repair some of the drones he comes across a rogue signal coming from what’s left of the Empire State Building. When Victoria translates it, they realize there’s something bigger than their job at stake. Soon after a ship crashes holding human survivors; they’re the only humans Jack and Victoria have seen since everyone boarded The Tet, one of which being the woman of his dreams. From here the plot takes twists and turns at breakneck speed until we learn the truth behind everything.
I read a few reviews of this film before seeing it and the one thing that everyone seemed to take from it was that a lot of the plot points are very similar to a lot of other sci-fi tales…to a point of ripping off or just not being very original. They’re not totally wrong, but they’re not right either. Mainly because some of the films it’s been compared to (Wall-E, Moon) were created after writer/director Joseph Kosinski wrote the original graphic novel/screenplay for Oblivion, which he started in 2005. However, it’s also reminiscent of a lot of the sci-fi movies of the 60’s and 70’s. I really didn’t mind having plot points or twists that were familiar and throughout the film most really were not predictable. Usually with films like this I like to enjoy it as it comes at me and refuse to figure out anything before it plays out. There may have been one or two things that I figured out anyway, but for the most part each new turn was a surprise which made me happy, even if some happened to be similar to something from a past story. It didn’t stop me from enjoying this film thoroughly. And I definitely did not guess the final outcome.
Being the director of the highly successful TRON: Legacy, Kosinski was finally able to make his story from before he made it in Hollywood. On that note, don’t go looking for the graphic novel, it was never published. I don’t even like that the credits listed it as being based on one.
The look of the film is familiar in some areas, but not all. I’m still a fan of the contrast between the stark, crisp, clean, white technology and gritty, rough, post-apocalyptic Earth. I loved the look of Jack’s ship, his home (The Tower), the human machinery and The Tet. Whether the frame was filled with effects shots or not, this film is beautifully shot. A lot of it is clearly taken from Kosinski’s original concept drawings and framed the way a comic book would be. It’s a wonderful blend of that style and classical science fiction. One of my absolute favorite things about the whole movie were the drones. These fantastic floating orbs are armed with four powerful cannons, cameras and scanners and they “speak” in this outstanding tonal language that really brought them to life. They became characters in their own right and I really think they’re one of the best parts of the film, digital characters done right. The sound effects and soundtrack were another highlight. The sound of Jack’s airship, the drones, weaponry and machinery all had a life to them and seeing this film presented in IMAX truly added to the experience. You felt and were immersed in the world around you. The hum of the engines was in your chest and the booming sounds of the water machines and The Tet tore through you as if you were standing right before them. The score was expertly composed and performed by French electronic/shoegaze band M83. This is the second time Kosinski used a musical group for a film’s score (famously and ingeniously using Daft Punk for TRON) and at this point I don’t think he should stop for his future ventures. He clearly has an ear for it and has a wonderful outcome each time. There’s action: shootouts and Star Wars-esque dog-fights (in a canyon no less), there’s some thrills, scares, beauty, humor and heart – all characteristics that, to me, make a great sci-fi epic.
The cast is rounded out by Olga Kurylenko as the mysterious human survivor – Julia, Morgan Freeman and Game of Throne‘s Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. At 124 minutes it’s a solid run time without going on too long. If a lot of the reviews missed one thing about this film, it was the point of it: it wasn’t supposed to be anything more than what it is. A great sci-fi action flick. And yet, it’s still better than most that try to do the same. It may be filled with stuff you’ve seen before in some form, but it has a lot of heart and the twists will definitely keep you guessing. I’m glad Joseph Kosinski was finally able to make this; he’s living the dream that so many people have had and he’s clearly having fun doing it and has a definite love for sci-fi and fellow fans of the genre. It could be said that its biggest weakness may be it’s familiarity but that’s not such a bad thing.