18 April 2013 607 Views

“Oblivion” Review: Joseph Kosinski Recycles, Reuses, & Repurposes Familiar Sci-Fi Elements

by Michael Lee

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Getting that aching feeling that a film is a retread or just grabbing bits and pieces from previously similar titles is nothing new in this day an age. Not that it should be a cause for concern or anything, but it’s more or less what Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is. The idea isn’t entirely original, some of the executed scenes in question isn’t entirely original either, but what Kosinski has gotten down to the letter to make it somewhat original is that he can create a world that feels visceral, authentic, and pretty damn spectacular. The plot of the film is an entirely different story however. Hit the jump for the full review of Universal Pictures’ Oblivion.

Oblivion takes place in the year 2077, some odd years after a war took place that turned Earth into a wasteland. Two mop up crew members, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andera Risebourogh), are the last two people on Earth tasked with keeping protective drones up and running. These drones protect large vessels that convert sea water into energy, from Scavs, survivors of the warring clan that fought the great war. The two are under the notion that they are to leave Earth in two weeks, but Jack has these reoccurring dreams, which he suspects are actually lingering memories that did not get wiped out after the mandatory memory wipe that was required after the war. During a routine maintenance check, Jack discovers an escape pod crash landing on earth. Drones are then sent to destroy any survivors. Jack manages to save one of them, and she may be the key to unlocking why he has these haunting memories, and the real reason the war happened.

The film is basically split into two parts: one part is spent in the present day, with Jack fixing the drones and trying to figure out whether or not his memories are real; the other part of the film focuses on Jack’s memories, which are more like blips and fragmented memories of one particular day. A lot of the film relies on that exposition to guide the audience through the film. Because of Jack’s fragmented memories and his recent discovery of the escape pods, those exposition scenes will help answer some of the questions audiences may have when the two scenes mesh into one fluid film.

But piecing those fragmented memories is just one tiny piece of the grand puzzle that is Oblivion. As it gets closer to the second act, Jack discovers that there is much more to his job than mission control lets on. Which is where the Scavs come in. We learn that Scavs are actually humans, led by Morgan Freeman, the last of their kind, and they know a lot more about what really happened than Jack does.

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Because the exposition plays a huge role in the film, Oblivion feels like it is running at a sluggish pace. A lot of the time, the film can feel like it’s skipping, because scenes are just repeating over and over again. But looking at the world, and how Kosinski made the scale of New York feel like an entire world rather than a state, is just enough to make Oblivion something more than worth watching. That scenery alone is absolutely breathtaking. But the film eventually finds its footing when it crosses into the second act, and as soon as it does, Oblivion hits the ground running.

The performances in the film are really nothing to get excited about. Everyone, except Freeman, feels like they are giving cardboard cut out performances. It’s not all the surprising since Garrett Hedlund gave a stiff performance in Tron Legacy, and this film had an equally stellar cast, so there should be no excuse for a film to have wooden performance. Overall it makes Oblivion feel like an expanding version of an M83 music video. This isn’t a bad thing necessarily, because that is how I felt after watching Tron: Legacy, I walked out of that film feeling like it was just one large music video.

Oblivion’s slight unoriginality is deeply rooted in Kosinski’s decision to use elements from sci-fi films. The giant structure and bubble ship seen in the film have hints of Tron Legacy in it. But that isn’t the only sci-fer he grabs from, there are also hints of Predator, Return of the Jedi, Independence Day, Wall-E, Tron: Legacy, and more which won’t be named for the sake of spoilers, which are layered throughout the film.

One might experience a mixed bag of feelings after watching something like Oblivion. And rightly so, the visuals are great, the music is great, the nods to other sci-films are there; the only problem is that audiences will have to endure the stiff acting from a pretty stellar cast.

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