Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Oblivion review

So let's talk about "Oblivion," the Tom Cruise-starring, Joseph Kosinski-directed sci-fi action spectacle. I call it a spectacle because, visually, this thing is out of sight. I have read some criticisms about an over-abundance of CGI in the film, that may be true, but damn they make it look gorgeous. Big reason for that is the cinematographer, Claudio Miranda. He just won an Oscar for DP'ing "Life of Pi" so this guy knows how to make digital look beautiful. He pulls it off again here.

Beyond that, the film actually succeeds in being engaging and, for the most part, entertaining. Tom Cruise is great here, as Jack Harper. He's a drone repairmen, one of the last stationed on Earth. He works with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who's also his romantic partner. Harper may know how to repair drones and fly an awesome spaceship, but he's very much an old-school, classic average American male... type... guy. You know, loves sports, the outdoors, Led Zeppelin, all that. He knows he has to leave Earth soon, but he doesn't really want to even if most of it has been destroyed. He can't get Victoria to see it his way, unfortunately, as she constantly tries to keep him in check.

But Harper will soon discover that there is more going on here, of course. Things aren't what they seem. The people he works for had his memory wiped, so he doesn't remember anything beyond the last few years. Still, he constantly has visions of a seeing a woman near the Empire State Building. A woman he feels he must know. But who is she?

Ok, enough plot description. Or else we'll get into spoiler territory. Oblivion succeeds because it gives its main character enough room to explore from an emotional standpoint. You want Harper to succeed, you care about his plight. Unfortunately, this is one of those sci-fis that picks and chooses what it wants to explain to you. We go through moments where we are inundated with exposition. But it's only enough exposition to help the character get from point A to B, leaving certain details of the story feeling rather... confusing. Like it doesn't all really add up. The character's story, for the most part, adds up, but you can't help but feel like there's something more interesting going on here that they're not telling us. That's the problem with a lot of sci-fi. You can either choose to tell the audience as little as possible, or as much as possible. It's when you get into those gray areas where things tend to get murky and that's the main problem with "Oblivion."

Because, otherwise, you can forgive the rather wooden acting from most of the cast, excluding Cruise and Riseborough. You can exclude the fact that Oblivion "borrows" many plot elements from a lot of other, better sci-fi films, making this a weird mix-match. Or hodge podge. Or whatever silly sounding word fits best there. The writers borrowed from those sources without really giving "Oblivion" its own distinct identity. I went into the film being entertained by Tom Cruise and his character, but left the movie wondering what the hell was going on with the rest of the film.

Plus, while the film does have its moments of action, and while I appreciate its measured pace, it doesn't really end with as big of a bang (no pun intended, for those who have seen it) as one would hope. So, overall, we're left with a pretty "nice" story with a great lead character, with not much else in between. See "Oblivion" to be entertained by Tom Cruise for two hours (if that's your thing), but don't expect much beyond that... aside from the awesome visuals. It's a good movie, better than others make it seem, but compared to other potential delectable desserts that we have coming this summer, "Oblivion" feels like a thin slice of cheesecake. It tasted ok, but by the time the banana split comes around, you'll forget all about it. Actually, I don't think that analogy makes much sense. I think I just made myself hungry.

Grade: C+

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