Sunday, May 12, 2013


movie review: in the picture

Oblivion **1/2

Starring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Melissa Leo, Morgan Freeman, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Tagline: Earth is a memory worth fighting for.

So you think Hollywood lacks originality? Well, good news: Oblivion proves your point! A hodgepodge of ideas from science fiction past, the film borrows heavily from the far superior movies that have preceded it to create a special effects laden collage of familiar bits and pieces.

Derivate to its core, Oblivion takes us to post apocalyptic Earth, where an attack by aliens called Scavengers (or Scavs) has turned the world into an uninhabitable wasteland. It is year 2077, and the surviving humans have been whisked away to a colony on Saturn's moon Titan. Technician Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his “effective” partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are still stationed on Earth to secure the remaining resources and repair the drones that are overseeing this mission and fending off the Scavs.

Things, however, start to unravel with the arrival of Julia (Olga Kurylenko), a mysterious occupant of a crashed spaceship, who has haunted Jack's visions prior to her appearance. A series of events - not necessarily predictable, but very comprehensively unoriginal - lead Jack to question his mission. Then Morgan Freeman shows up, as he often does, to tell us what is really going on.

With not a single original bone in its oversized body, the film comes off as an unevenly paced dystopian drama which occasionally gives way to some frantically convoluted action. The initial setup feels all too familiar; think WALL-E, minus its irresistible charm and joy. It then turns into a game of 'guess the inspiration' as Oblivion trudges from plot points of one sci-fi classic to another. Its derivativeness might not have been such a massive problem had it not been so obvious and the borrowed points had been concealed under a layer of creativity. Creativity, however, rarely makes an appearance in this film.

A better script would certainly have helped. Oblivion's overreliance on voiceover narration, with Tom Cruise walking us through the story, acts in its detriment; it would have been more interesting had they let us discover things on our own and made the reveals more nuanced. While Cruise does put in a considerable effort to bring Jack to life, his generic action hero character could have done with a more distinctive personality, and the icy Victoria and the vacant Julia could have used more substance that would have turned them into better defined and more engaging characters.

Where the films impresses, though, is in its looks and design. The sleek visuals, the effective use of whites and grays, and the futuristic aesthetics make Oblivion's world striking. It is this aspect of the film that appears to have been crafted with artistic attention and care. The action itself is also well executed. And M83's score works overtime to make up for the lack of tension in the script. But without much heart underneath, these glossy embellishments can't help but feel hollow and squandered.

Oblivion's style over substance approach shows yet again that, as with Tron Legacy, Joseph Kosinski is more effective at creating visuals than characters. Had he paid more attention to the story and screenplay and relied less on borrowed elements, he could have created a much more effective science fiction tapestry. As it stands, the movie's intentions seem transparently commercial, and it is unlikely to satisfy sci-fi devotees. The film may want to leave the viewer with existential quandaries, but doesn't pull this off nearly as convincingly as the many films it blatantly rips off. Oblivion does have the ability to keep you watching and trying to figure out what's going on, and you won't want to abandon the film midway, but its story could have been a lot more interesting if Kosinski had come up with something more unique and creative, and made the characters more warm and the proceedings easier to invest into.

– Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 12th May, 2013

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