April 22, 2013

Movie Mondays: Oblivion

None of the posters really capture the feel of the film, so take your pick.

Title: Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt – Based on the original story by Joseph Kosinski
Distributed By:
Universal Studios
Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Zoë Bell
Release Date:
April 19, 2013
Rated PG-13

Have I got a story for you!  It’s the tale of Oblivion, not the film, but the product.  You see, it was marketed as being based on a graphic novel, but in reality it was “based” on a “graphic novel” that never actually existed.  Joseph Kosinski, director of TRON: Legacy, began work on a screenplay for Oblivion some time before the writers’ strike of 2007.  To keep working outside of the Writers’ Guild, he redesigned the project into a “graphic novel” which was essentially a plot summary with concept art.  After the strike, the new format was used to pitch the movie, while Kosinski got back to work on the script with a new team of writers.  So, here we finally have Oblivion, “based” on a “graphic novel” that never was.

There sure are a lot of attack…ahm I mean defense drones!

In the year 2077 the Earth is a wasteland, ravaged by a war that happened 60 years earlier when Earth was attacked by aliens.  During the war, the aliens destroyed Earth’s moon, resulting in catastrophic earthquakes, tidal waves, and all sorts of tectonic upheaval.  Earth’s governments and military branches fought back with nukes, wiping out the vast majority of the very planet they sought to defend, ensuring a Pyrrhic victory.  The remaining survivors moved off-planet to The TET (a tetrahedral space station), while a skeleton crew of maintenance workers remained to supervise the gathering of Earth’s resources, and repairing defense drones while under constant attack from the remnants of the invading alien forces.  Or so the story goes….

Jack (Tom Cruise) is one of the last two people on Earth, the other being his partner and apparent lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who are two weeks away from completing their mission, when Jack stumbles across more human survivors.  In an attempt to rescue them, mysteries present themselves and questions need answering… questions that threaten to unravel everything about the world that Jack has come to know.

Malcolm Beech… genetically engineered from the DNA of Darth Vader and Lando Calrissian. Why Not?

The story begins with an uneasy feeling, firmly enveloping the viewer in a moody, desolate, and depressing landscape.  Cruise and Riseborough perform their parts wonderfully, providing an instant connection and understanding of the tenuous balance they maintain between joy, anticipation, longing, and fear.  As the cast of characters grows with the introductions of Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and eventually Malcolm (Morgan Freeman), the story grows as well.  And from here on out, the tale becomes a roller coaster of emotions, revelations, and twist after twist (that you may or may not see coming).

The plot thickens….

Ah! The design! Such pretty design!.

The visual design was great.  The advanced technology utilized by the TET maintenance workers has a very sleek, shiny, polished Apple/Steve Jobs look to it.  On the other hand, the survivors’ tech has that sort of “used future” look George Lucas created for the original Star Wars trilogy, combined with a grungy “everyone wears leather” look from Mad Max.  Also the use of blacks and whites for wardrobe hearkens back to the old westerns’ notion of “white hats” and “black hats,” which adds a nice layer to the overall plot of the film (can’t explain without massive spoilers).

iOffice and iHome… new from Apple Inc.

This is all handled rather superbly with pacing that is pitch-perfect for this type of film, thoughtful editing that’s never jarring even with frequent flashbacks, and wonderful cinematography provided by Claudio Miranda.  The visuals are further aided by excellently subdued costume designs from Marlene Stewart, and great designs for the sets, vehicles, and apocalyptic locales.  The sound design, filling the landscape and sound-scape with rushing winds, giving scenes a deserted barren sound, is to be praised as well.  In fact, everyone involved with creating the atmosphere for this film deserves praise

This leads to the next element of atmosphere and mood, the music, which is absolutely stunning.  Anthony Gonzalez and his band M83 co-composing with Joseph Trapanese (TRON: Legacy, TRON: Uprising, The Raid: Redemption) create musical pieces ranging from sparse emotional motifs to pulsing driving themes that course with a sense of grandeur.  It’s as if the musical scores of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and Michael Kamen all combined with each other to create something amazing.  In the opinion of this reviewer, Oblivion’s musical score is in the running for the best score of 2013.  If you don’t see this film, for whatever reason (and you’d be doing yourself a disservice), at least go out and buy a copy of this score.  It is simply stupendous!

One of those quiet, almost desolate moments I was talking about.

This film managed to capture the odd sense of paranoia of Logan’s Run and Total Recall (the original and remake).  Oblivion also evokes the atmospheric loneliness of Blade Runner, with quiet character-driven scenes light on dialog and heavy on music.  Also seemingly included in this film’s pedigree is the quiet and contemplative Solaris (1972 and 2002 versions), another sci-fi film about a skeleton crew dealing with an emotional crisis.  The pacing of the film is very reminiscent of all of these films, while leaning more toward the Logan’s Run end of the spectrum insofar as the arrangement of beats, from exposition to character interaction/development to action and so on.  Overall this film presents a very modern take on a very retro style of sci-fi.

With that in mind, it should be noted that this film is far from perfect.  The usage of so many elements from previous entries in the genre makes this film somewhat predictable at times.  This film owes a lot to previous hallmarks of the genre, and it’s clear that Kosinski and the other writers are definitely fans of science fiction.  That’s not to disparage the film in any way.  The story’s disparate elements weren’t all that original, but in a genre that’s been around for over 100 years, it’s nearly impossible to be original.  That being said, Oblivion uses various previously established plot elements and combines them into something new and fairly original.  Though the plot can be a bit clichéd, the atmosphere, acting performances, breathtaking music, and overall high quality of the film keep this film from being a mediocre experience and add Oblivion to the list of truly entertaining and engaging science fiction films.  This film merits a 9 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger


One Comment

  1. SpidermanGeek

    Saw this over teh weekend and you pretty much nailed how I feel about it in this review. It was a great, polished Sci-Fi flick inspired by myriad classics of the genre which unfortunately made it predictible and not terribly original in concept. This means that to me, Oblivion isn’t all that memorable, but it also shouldn’t be dismissed as any sort of failure among its peers. It’s kind of a Jack of all trades, but master of none as far as modern day sci-fi movies go.

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