Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Oblivion Review

I'm a huge fan of Joseph Kosinski, and he's only directed two films: Oblivion and 2010's outstanding Tron: Legacy.  I loved the film (Tron) so much that I've listened to its score during almost every review I've ever written, this one included.  With such a strong freshman effort, my expectations were understandably high for his follow-up, Oblivion, based upon a graphic novel that Joseph himself wrote.  While not perfect by any means, I enjoyed Oblivion immensely, and possibly even more than his first effort.

Tom Cruise is Jack Harper, a drone tech on 2077 Earth.  He and his partner, Vicca (Andrea Riseborough) are the only remaining humans on the planet, tasked with patrolling the skies and protecting/repairing drones that are in turn protecting ginormous fusion reactors that are converting Earth's water into fuel...fuel for the rest of the human race to use on Titan, one of Saturn's moons.  See, sixty years prior, an alien race known as the Scavs came from the depths of space to eradicate the human population and take our resources.  "We won the war, but we lost the planet," to quote Jack.  The remaining humans fled to the Tet (I couldn't help but think of the 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War whenever this was story bro, I know), a space station orbiting the Earth, which serves as an embarkation point to Titan.  Still with me?  Cool.  Most of this information is conveyed through a detail-heavy bit of exposition at the top of the film; Kosinski has a lot of ground to cover in terms of world-building, and I think he did a fantastic job.

One of the film's strengths is the world in which Jack and Vicca operate.  It's still the Earth we know today...just with almost everything recognizable destroyed.  Remember those Scavs I was talking about?  Well before they invaded the Earth they blew up the Moon, which caused massive upheavels in the tectonic plates; New York City is almost literally underground, save for a trench between some skyscrapers and the top of the Empire State Building.  Its these few elements that help to reassure us that this is actually Earth despite the alien presence and the future-tech at play.

The visual effects on display most certainly play into this feeling of reality.  Jack flies a small ship that looks akin to a dragonfly, that can pull off wondrous stunts.  Many scenes involving the ship were filmed practically, with Cruise actually sitting in a real version of it.  No matter how good effects get, the eye can just tell when something is real.  I mean, most of the time anyway!  Everything just felt very tactile, despite the Tron-like sheen to it all (at least in Jack and Vicca's skylofty apartment).  Honestly, this film sports some of the most impressive visual effects I've ever seen; nary a moment passed where I wasn't fully immersed in the world that Jack was flying around in.  The incredible sound design also deserves much credit; every energy bolt fired from Jack's rifle pulsed in my chest.  The drones that Jack is tasked with repairing are a masterful blend of these two crafts; I swear that an actual spherical drone was on-screen with Cruise at all times...and the sound-effects of their "language" and propulsion rumbled my seat.  Just amazing.

Without getting into too much detail, where Oblivion will become love-it-or-hate-it is with its trope-riddled plot.  The main argument against this film is that it poaches heavily from previous science fiction franchises.  To name them would be akin to spoiling the film, but let's just say that the homages/rip-offs are quite apparent and abundant during the film.  And I had no problem with it.  Frankly, I felt like Oblivion's narrative was wholly unique and breath of fresh air, while at the same time doing very little to be actually innovative.  This is a very difficult place to be in - I recognize the cherry-picking being done from movie-trope-history, but I ultimately don't care.  Almost nothing is unique these days, and within a world filled with sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, requels, and premakes what Kosinski was able to accomplish is truly astounding.  Will you see the plot twists coming from a mile away?  Maybe.  I did with some.  But others kept me guessing right up until the end.

If I'm being honest with myself, there is just very little negative that I have to say about this film.  The characters aren't necessarily anything to write home about, but that's on purpose.  The visuals are outstanding, as is the narrative as a whole.  The score, on the other hand, while very, very good just didn't live up to my expectations from the superb Legacy (seriously, it has got to be one of the best film scores of the last decade); this time around composed by M83 instead of Daft Punk, I couldn't help but feel Tron and The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises undertones were at play.  And to be fair, a good bit of the Tron:Legacy score is eerily reminiscent to Inception/The Dark Knight, but I was just hoping for something a tad more iconic.

My only other gripe would be with several plot holes that crop up throughout the film.  I'm completely fine with a film that has a lot going on (the aforementioned Inception springs to mind), but when something happens or someone does something that makes you stop and ask yourself, "wait, why...what?" then there might be a problem.  Several times throughout the film jumps in logic are made and we're expected to fill in the gaps.  Again, I have no problem with this in general, but I couldn't help but feel that maybe the film thought it was a wee bit smarter than it actually is...

Despite retreading seemingly well-worn science fiction territory, I couldn't help but feel like Oblivion was a great big breath of fresh air in today's cinematic landscape.  Yes, plenty of ideas and concepts are borrowed/poached from the other franchises, but what Kosinski does with those ideas are truly fantastic and incredibly memorable.  Yes, maybe Morgan Freeman's Beech was a tad underdeveloped as a character, but he didn't need to be.  This is Jack's story and I'm very glad that I came along for the ride (you'll see what I did there after you see the movie).

Before I wrap this up I need to just quickly point out that the film's one "f" bomb was absolutely per-fect.  So good!!  Also, The Kingslayer!!!

Oblivion feels like an incredibly fresh, vibrant sci-fi action film while borrowing from quite a few franchises.

The Bearded Bullet

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