Review: Oblivion 2013 (Cruise)

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“you have the satisfying sense of a five-course meal with a great dessert at the end.”
I went and saw this on opening night last night. I have to say, this is Tom Cruise’s best movie since A Few Good Men (1992) and Vanilla Sky (2001). But I’m a huge fan of intelligent sci-fi. so may be biased. First the synopsis…

A veteran US tech. (Cruise, Jack/”Tech 49″) and his female British station assistant (‘Victor’), United Nations/Earth Fed. 2077, are assigned to the devastated Earth after “the war.” Humans won but were forced to leave for Titan, a moon of Saturn. They protect several huge nuclear extractors, processing sea water as energy for humanity on Titan under the NASA control of The Tet circling above them in the atmosphere, like an orbiting moon (destroyed by aliens). Comm.s link and Control is “Sally,” evoking “HAL” of 2001, “Data” or “Computer” of Star Trek). Jack and Vic. maintain really cool drones that are mopping up enemy ‘alien’ Scavs (scavengers) on Earth. But memories torment Tech 49.

Ok, that’s all I’m going to say, as the real star of this film is the story, and that is why this film is so good. The story rocks first. Now to the stars…

Tom Cruise (Jack Harper/Tech 49) is brilliant as lead. He doesn’t over act, is less intrusive, and – like Vanilla Sky – moves beyond clichéd handsome sex-hunk saving the world single-handed and getting the girl (hooray, hate that rubbish). Oblivion has restored my interest in Cruise as an actor after several recent flops (Rock of Ages 2012). His acting is a good balance. Perhaps three divorces has grounded him. Morgan Freeman (Breech) plays his usual wise-head sage role, but is under-cooked in this movie (I would have liked more screen time). One of two leading ladies is Olga Kurylenko (Julia) a Ukranian actress whom we’ve seen as a recent Bond girl (Quantum of Solace). She looks Maori and plays the juxtaposed black-haired First Lady to red-head surrogate Andrea Riseborough (Victoria ‘Victor’), a British actress in her first A-list role, Cruise’s mission side-kick.

This is a movie of a graphic novel (like Walking Dead, Constantine, et al) by Joseph Kosinski (who also directs, brilliantly). The novel is as yet unpublished by Radical but was given out at a 2009 comics con. delayed by art development for the film. The concept made it to film first after initial conception in the graphic novel genre, a form of backwards development.
“Oblivion” is Prometheus meets Star Wars (Ewoks and Sandmen) meets Red Planet. There is also some time travel interplay. It has a great kick at the end.

We begin in 2077 after the Earth has been devastated after the arrival of aliens. Humanity fights back with nukes, wins, but in the process devastates the earth. Earthquakes and tsunamis finish off civilisation and humanity flees to Titan, a moon of Saturn. Our heroes are on Earth as “An Efficient Team” in a sky station 3000 feet up, maintaining war drones and protecting the massive sea water nuclear processors. Scavs (scavengers) are still about, remnants of the defeated ‘alien’ army who interfere with drones and the processing plants, like the Ewoks and Sandmen of Star Wars.

The design of this film is immaculate (Cruise calls it “elegant”). The space craft are stunning, on a par with the predatory cat droid of Red Planet (‘AMEE’). Delicious. Cruises’ space and ground transports are awesome.

Sci fi frequently adopts Classical or Biblical allusions. The names of space craft often feature (Zion, Nebuchadnezzar, Prometheus, Icarus, etc.) and in Oblivion, Jack’s mission craft is called “Odyssey,” an obvious message there. Latin prose from Roman poet Horatius’ The Lay (stanza XXVII) also features strongly in this film, but no spoiler.

Another high point are the sweeping devastated vistas (ala Planet of the Apes): Washington DC as a flooded delta, the tip of the Empire State Building, the tops of the Brooklyn Bridge etc, you get the picture. At times it feels like New Zealand but was shot in Iceland.

There’s a Modernist-feel to the sky station that ’49’ and ‘Victor’ inhabit, coupled with a 1960s Mad Men chic that flavours the high-tech Star Wars/Red Planet-esque sci-fi aesthetic.

The gadgets and armoury are gorgeous, restrained but highly designed. This is not the grunge of Alien or the pop culture of Star Wars, something satistfyingly in-between. The comm.s link from NASA control in The Tet is crinkly black and white (like the 1969 moon landings). Nice.

The story grips you immediately, and has twists and turns. Good movies move through several plot-altering episodes, and Oblivion does this in spades. So you have the satisfying sense of a five-course meal with a great dessert at the end.

Tech 49 has a huge secret that he has kept from Victor, who plays the Company game and is a rigid stickler for protocol. Recurring memories, deja vu and bad dreams are a key to this movie, but no more on that.

This held me all the way. Oblivion is luscious in its cinematography, the CGI Special FX are dazzling unobtrusive supporting actors serving the story, which is deep, satisfying, moving, exciting, and resolves brilliantly. I empathised with the characters, came to hate the enemy, and enjoyed the ride at several levels.

9/10 (one point behind The Avengers, a perfect move, because I wanted more development of Freeman).

~ John Stringer,

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