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Theatrical Release Date: 04/19/2013
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity.
Runtime: 2 hours, 6 minutes


Trailer:

You have to let Goose go. It’s what he would have wanted.

Director Joseph Kosinski’s first and only other film was TRON: Legacy. It’s a pretty film but completely devoid of substance and relies on using images and themes from not only TRON but a host of other science fiction films (most notably Star Wars Episode IV). It’s basically what happens when you take a peek at a sci-fi fan’s late-night snack fueled dreams.

Now Kosinski is back with Oblivion. It’s a pretty film but completely devoid of substance and relies on using images and themes from a host of science fiction material including TRON: Legacy (but most notably Battlestar Galactica, The Terminator, Moon, The Matrix, 2001, WALL·E, and Independence Day). It’s basically what happens when you give the director of TRON: Legacy another big budget sci-fi action film and have Tom Cruise on-board to raise the profile of the project.

Now that’s not to say it’s without merits. It’s truly a beautiful experience with excellent sound design and fulfills all the basics of a good action flick. If you just need a popcorn muncher, this will fit the bill nicely. Just remember that if you are at all a fan of science fiction, at no point, during or after the film, should you decide to turn on your brain and attempt to process the events that are going on.

This film is littered with elements I can’t discuss because it would spoil things. All one can say without giving it away is that Tom Cruise plays a man tasked with keeping drones repaired on a future Earth devastated by a war with an invading extraterrestrial force. However, keep in mind that within the first five minutes (and I’m being generous here), I had made the correct supposition of what the big reveal would be at about an hour later into the whole thing. There are other “secrets” which come out but none of them are surprising or feel all that revelatory, mostly because everything feels “borrowed” from some other work of science fiction.

Even the credits saying that this is “based on a graphic novel” is a hilarious story unto itself. You can check out the full story at www.bleedingcool.com but the gist of it is that Kosinski co-wrote a treatment originally meant to become a graphic novel but really was just a way to pitch a film. No such graphic novel has yet to be released, so to say it was based it on that material is a bit of a stretch.

Getting back to the film, one of the selling points I kept hearing about was the IMAX experience. I was lucky enough to see this in IMAX … well, in a fake IMAX theater (since no true IMAX theater yet exists in San Diego that shows non-educational movies) … and the film wasn’t shot in IMAX, it was shot in widescreen and then digitally cropped for “IMAX” … so umm … yeah. Not IMAX.

But it did look gorgeous and I did appreciate the increase in volume you get even in a fake IMAX theater, as the sound design was top notch. I missed having the edges of the movie that would have been seen in a traditional viewing but I doubt it mattered much considering all the comments Kosinski has made in interviews and Q&As (including one after the screening I attended). He spoke of how much he kept in mind the (near) full frame aspect ration of IMAX so he must have kept all the action in that portion of the screen. I still miss the edges because the landscapes and imagery were so well done but I can’t say I’m surprised at this director’s choices after seeing his first two films.

The real problem with Oblivion is that in mashing up all these different sci-fi elements, all of the soul and gravitas that accompanied the original material gets lost in a bright & shiny package. The movie is all on the surface, without any depths ever explored whatsoever (and don’t get me started on the useless love story). It’s part of a larger problem in films these days where filmmakers reference previous works in an attempt to connect to the emotions they found appealing but apparently aren’t able to evoke on their own.

Also, in a nod to borrowing from past works, Kosinski even took the TRON: Legacy approach to synth scores and redid it here, trading in Daft Punk for M83. And while I absolutely LOVE the music and have purchased it for myself, it drowns out almost every scene in which it’s featured. What should drive the emotion in any film is the storytelling, not the score. So despite how critical I find this element of production to be in my overall enjoyment, and truly recommend the music on its own, it was far too heavy-handed in its execution alongside the movie (i.e. TRON: Legacy all over again).

Yet despite all that bashing, moaning, and groaning, I still enjoyed Oblivion. It’s got some really good action, Tom Cruise appears to be stuck in a time-loop where he hasn’t aged in the last 15 years, the images are beautiful, and I love the score (just not how it overpowers the scenes). Science Fiction aficionados are going to see everything coming and may not be able to forgive all the elements co-opted from much better works of science fiction but the average moviegoer is going to enjoy the ride. It’s a good diversion from everyday life if that’s all you’re looking for and at least provides the visuals and sounds that make it worth the cost and time of going out to theaters rather than waiting to see it at home; even with a fairly large HDTV, it’s still not the same.

3.5 out of 5