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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Oblivion Movie Review

Remember the plot of "TRON: Legacy"? No? Ok, well did you see "TRON: Legacy"?? Still no, eh? Well, if you had, you'd remember that it was visually stunning even if the script was DOA. Director Joseph Kosinski, had been picked out of relative obscurity and given a shot at helming the "Tron" sequel based largely on his visual-effects work. It was a bold gamble by franchise-owners Disney and, while it didn't pay off, Mr. Kosinski showed that he has a real flair for visual imagery.

For his follow-up, Mr. Kosinski has co-written a script based on his own unpublished graphic novel. The result is "Oblivion", an ambitious and, yes, visually stunning, sci-fi mind-bender that doesn't quite live up to its lofty goals.

The year is 2077. The Earth has been devastated by a war with an alien race nicknamed the Scavs (short for Scavengers). The Scavs blew up our moon, throwing Earth into atmospheric turmoil (pretty good idea, actually) and laying waste to the surface of our planet. The rest of the destruction was accomplished via our own nukes as we struck back against the aliens ("We won the war but lost the planet").

At some point, we humans relocated to Titan, a moon of Saturn, via an orbiting space station. Only two humans remain on Earth to guard enormous hydro-reactors that provide energy for the population on Titan. Or something like that.

All this exposition is exposed via an extended voice-over that opens the film as we watch Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) go through their daily routines. He patrols the wasteland fixing downed drones in a fancy helicopter, and she monitors his location via a vast touchscreen panel (likely designed by Steve Jobs before he died). They're like human "Wall-Es", except they do yoga, swim naked in an infinity pool and live in a tricked-out smarthome perched above the clouds.

Jack and Victoria have two weeks until retirement, or at least until they too can go to the space station and then on to Titan. They're only connection with the rest of humanity is through a daily video call from Sally at mission control (Melissa Leo).

Yes, that's a lot of setup, and there's plenty more movie where that came from. You can see how Mr. Kosinski was going to make "Oblivion" a graphic novel (though he could have used a better title). To give away anything else would take away from the fun of watching the film. And there is fun to be had here, particularly for sci-fi fans craving a fix since "Battlestar Galactica" went off the air (when the "Total Recall" remake is the best recent sci-fi movie, you know we're in a dry period).

Mr. Kosinski and his production team have a great time with their (clearly) enormous budget. We are treated to shots of New York City in various states of disrepair. Particular fun is had with the Empire State Building and New York Public Library.

Of course, as Jack starts to uncover the nature of his mission and the Scavs, he discovers as many plot holes as explanations. The worst part is that some of these leaps of logic could have been fixed with simple lines of dialogue. All that budget and all that talent and no one thought of that? (Honestly, guys, call me next time).

Without giving anything away, the heart of the film is one of those alien plots that make you think, "there must have been an easier way". But to truly enjoy "Oblivion" it's better to put your disbelief in a stasis for two hours and admire the scenery.

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