By Shane M. Dallmann
I hadn’t originally planned to see this, but hearty recommendations from trusted friends CAN do the trick.
OBLIVION identified itself fairly quickly (in my book) as an “Or So We’re Told…” movie. In his opening narration, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) explains how Earth was rendered uninhabitable after a war with an alien race known only as the Scavengers (which we apparently “won”). The surviving population of Earth is being transported to live on Titan (a moon of Saturn) while the “mop-up” crew stays behind to harvest crucial energy from the oceans. Jack and his teammate Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are manning an orbiting station in the meantime (after a mandatory memory wipe), and it’s Jack’s job to make regular trips to the surface to check on the equipment (including armed, protective “drones”) and avoid whatever straggling Scavengers might still be trying to get him.
Or So We’re Told.
Jack’s still troubled by memories still trying to claw their way back into his consciousness; Victoria is just SO charming, loving and accommodating; and they’re an “effective team” for the charming, chirpy space-base contact that gives them their orders via computer hook-up. Something’s very wrong.
The trailers have already told you that Jack is going to meet Morgan Freeman, who hopes that Jack will provide a “favor” for him and HIS team… and of course, there are other surprises waiting for Jack on the surface (you’ll also have recognized one of them as Olga Kurylenko). The trailers did NOT give the entire game away…
…but something else almost did. I recognized the central conceit well before I’m sure I was supposed to… it was done on a much lower budget but with just as much emotion in 2009… and it starred Sam Rockwell. If you recognize my reference, congratulations. I considered that writer/director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: LEGACY) might have actually come up with it earlier in his original “illustrated novel” (still to be published). But the first rushes of the OBLIVION novel weren’t seen until 2010. Coincidence, perhaps, but it’s a big one. Still, it doesn’t spill ALL of the beans.
I also enjoyed the PLANET OF THE APES references: the wastelands of New York City were very effectively conveyed, and sure enough, there’s a Forbidden Zone (sorry, Radiation Zone) Jack’s warned not to enter. And I’d tell you there weren’t any apes involved, except that there WAS one. It’s a small stuffed gorilla sold as an Empire State Building souvenir, and it’s a very nice touch.
So… OBLIVION doesn’t score many points for originality where I come in. But it certainly entertains dependably. The cast is just fine, the visual effects and action sequences are top-flight… and the touch of optimism is more than welcome–by the time it’s over, it’s only fair to acknowledge that OBLIVION earned the right to have it both ways. It’s no classic, but it’s a good time at the movies all the same.