“Earth is a memory worth fighting for,” but…
…is a clone memory as authentic as the original…and, is it worth fighting for? Hmmm. Before seeing Oblivion, I might have said that an original is better, somehow, without knowing how…exactly. Why did I start this review with that question? Probably because, after seeing the movie, it’s stuck in my head like a foreign object that needs to be surgically removed–like a memory refusing to show itself, only taunting the host; probably because it’s something integral to the film’s meaning, as I consider what it really is to be human–by definition and by the facts otherwise; probably because forgetting is another reason I remember Oblivion.
Okay, enough with the confusion! I’ll get back to that soon enough, after it makes more sense. In the meantime, let’s speed forward to the year 2077. The Earth has already been invaded by aliens identified only as “scavengers.” Luckily, as we are told, the scavengers were defeated only after humans used the nuclear option and destroyed half the planet in the process. Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are technicians stationed on platforms above Earth; they work (hopefully) as an “effective team,” repairing drones designed to terminate remaining scavengers. The termination of scavengers is very necessary, of course; they are always working to sabotage rigs that process ocean water for the TET (Earth’s command center in space). With a name like “scavengers,” what good could these so-called aliens really be anyway? You’d be surprised!
I could go on and on, of course. This is a complex science fiction story (and a great one, as well), touted as an epic in some reviews and trailer voice overs. An accompanying 124 minute running time helps get it close to that…mostly. Why “mostly,” and not entirely? I’d say it’s something to do with the movie not spanning enough time and not explaining enough “epic” events in the story. “Why get into criticism of a great movie so quickly!” you say. Quite simply, to get it over with…for now, that is. 😀
“So, what amount of necessary time and events are not covered?” you ask. Perhaps more of the alien invasion back story would have helped move it closer to a full-spectrum saga. I know. You’re saying, “That’s for a prequel, some other time.” Arguably, you are correct; but, I am speaking from the impulsive, selfish (and yes, possibly groundless) desire I had for this sci-fi movie to achieve its potential. (Yes, I am sometimes tougher on my favorite genre, with its limitless room for creativity.) And, admittedly, I just can’t help it! With the alien invasion mystery, the origin of the TET (a point of distraction after a time), and more, I felt that things were left a little undone for my cinematic taste buds—again, only for the pedigree of “epic.” While appetizers of the unknown worked well in the beginning, I felt my stomach still growling in the end. What could have been a full-course “epic” was instead another delicious, albeit slice-of-life entree.
Now, was falling short of “epic” status grounds for making me dislike Oblivion? Absolutely not! I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was a big movie, with a big feel, helped to be all the bigger seen on an IMAX screen. The story kept me guessing, kept me thinking ahead, trying to make sense out of things that, at first, didn’t make sense. And, better yet, in the end, it was all very intelligent. All the special effects were, indeed, very special, just as they should be in all great sci-fi films; the CGI (in abundance here) was further done well enough to look real. No, there are no ships and sci-fi props looking like too-perfect clones of the original here. Imagine that! As a bonus, the futuristic ships actually looked practical enough to really work…someday. Have I left anything out? I shouldn’t have, because it was all surely there. It’s even loaded with edge-of-your-seat action! Oh, and yes, I’ll buy the Blu-ray! Who knows? Maybe the director’s cut will even make it an epic after all! 😀
Was there a love interest, you ask? Of course! What would a great drama (of any genre) about the human condition be without a good love story between at least two people? Ah, but in Oblivion, two is not enough. A triangle always creates more points of interest, in the future and in sci-fi, just as it does in any of the most realistic earthbound dramas. Love makes the best motives for unlikely heroes to emerge or for heroes to become even greater heroes. And, of course, it also creates the greatest motives for those involved to betray one another, creating “oblivion” also of the emotional kind. Why am I being confusing, skirting around plot twists and details, without being clear, again and again? Of course, being clear would be too much for a review of a movie that’s unclear (to great effect) through most of its running time; it would betray the man-against-oblivion theme of the movie itself.
Oh, and who is that dark-haired beauty with the Slavic accent and distinctly European features? Who is that third point of pulchritude in the love triangle? It’s none other than Olga Kurylenko, of course! Kurylenko (a former bond girl in Quantum of Solace and the ruthless Etain in Centurion) is equally stunning, and yes cosmic as well, in Oblivion. A better choice for the part of Julia could not have been made, no matter how far one searches the stars. Kurylenko plays Julia, a woman whose importance is, as you might expect, near epic as well. Kurylenko is not only an actress with quantum force; she can easily say a million words with a look–and even more as the camera gives her face more time. As a vision from the past and future, Kurylenko is one remembered by even a mind wiped clean.
Andrea Riseborough (as Victoria) is perfect as Jack’s female companion/team member who is, at times, more appropriately robotic than human. (No, I didn’t say she’s a robot! Even if she was, I wouldn’t give that much away.) But, Riseborough does act appropriately more programmed than natural, while developing Victoria as an ironically human character, in just the right way. Riseborough plays Victoria as a cold and professional worker, while retaining a fragile femininity that we like anyway. She also holds her own as a fitting rival with Julia for the affections of Jack. A weaker actress would have been lost in a shadow of Kurylenko’s Julia.
And how does Tom Cruise do in this near-epic sci-fi slice of life? Just as Cruise always does! That, although you may think not, is a great compliment. Why? It’s because Cruise has the ability to do what most of his overused peers cannot; he absorbs himself in the character he portrays, allowing us to forget that he’s Tom Cruise. Yes, that’s quite an accomplishment, and I’m thinking of more than a few times before that he’s has done this—for one, as Klaus von Stauffenberg in Valkerie. After his performance in that, I was convinced that Cruise was up for anything; and again, he did it in Oblivion. As Jack Harper, Cruise is a man who emerges from his routine and purpose to be his creator’s greatest foe. Hold on just a minute! Before you think I’ve given away too much in a review, think again. That could, as indeed it does, mean a million different things you’ll never know until you see the movie.
Victoria: “Jack, Mission is ordering you to stand down.”
Jack: “I’m not going to do that.”
And of course, how could a movie starring Morgan Freeman be reviewed without lauding him and the typical awesome job he does doing…anything he does! Freeman is an actor whose talent truly precedes him, always offering a performance that could salvage the worst of would-be clunkers. Freeman plays the part of the resistance leader known as Beech. Beech, as played by Freeman is the classic man, wise from years of living longer and doing more than those around him. With Freeman’s force, Beech is the type of man you would follow, just because he says, “Follow me,” with that oh-so-convincing voice of authority. Without such needed charisma delivered here, Oblivion could have lost another rocket on the movie meter. Luckily, Freeman loads needed fuel again!
Also making appearances in Oblivion are Melissa Leo (as the command voice and image of Sally) and Zoe Bell (as resistance fighter Kara), who also works as a stunt double in blockbuster movies too numerous to list. Leo is a joy to watch (and especially hear), with her ironically-welcoming, down-home southern accent. Yes ironically is, due to Leo’s part, a definite understatement here. Rarely are smaller parts played well enough to make them bigger than they are; but, in Oblivion, Leo does it with perfection. It’s also great to see former stunt double Zoe Bell finally playing character parts in movies herself. It’s about time. Congratulations, Zoe! 😀
Aside from the love triangles, lovely ladies, a near-epic story, special effects galore and more, was there a human-element to this otherwise alien tale? Oh yes! The aforementioned greatness of the movie could not exist without it. What is it that seals the deal with the human element? I’d say it’s all of the classic themes all rolled into one, and then some. There’s man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, and yes, even man vs. alien! It’s a most unique story of a man searching for himself and finding all of humanity in the process. Oblivion is deep enough to be intellectual and literary (including the best in sci-fi) while, at the same time, having an effective balance of entertainment and action. What’s more to look for? I say not much.
Where does Oblivion come from? From the mind of none other than Joseph Kosinski. As the film’s director and graphic novella author, who could be better charged with leading a successful movie mission? Not another in the universe, I say. No, I have not read the novella…yet. But, I am now ready to seek it out; any movie this good must come from an equally good source. And a quote from IMDb adds even more: “The Oblivion project originated as an 8-page treatment written by Joseph Kosinski which was pitched in 2007 to Barry Levine and Jesse Berger at Radical Publishing as a graphic novel. The project was subsequently developed into an illustrated novella [held for release to coincide with the film release.]” No, I did not know that either!
Finally (or close to finally), what could a Space Jockey Reviews review be without, when possible, critical commentary from the ever-vigilant Lien Mya Nguyen. For all you childbirth realists out there, Mya asks if a woman could give birth all alone, without help of any kind (human or alien)? Yes, I must stress and underscore the words “all alone.” Mya thinks not, and I agree. Also, in a certain scene (SPOILER AHEAD) where Jack 52 is still wearing his #52 technician suit, three years after the final defeat (of I won’t say who), how likely is that….really? First, how likely is it that someone wears exactly the same suit for three years, in any case? Second, how likely is it that someone (the hero here, no less) wears a suit representing the enemy–what’s more, any amount of time after he realizes the heinous things they did to his own kind? Like Mya, I say “Not likely” on the first and yell “Hell no!” on the second. The only reason would be (as the camera focuses in on the #52, most pretentiously) is to tell the audience that the same Jack is back. Yeah, that’s got to be it. (But, couldn’t they have done it in a more subtle, more heroic way?) In another unlikely scenario (SPOILER AHEAD AGAIN), Jack’s repelling cord is cut, and somehow another one appears…from I don’t know where. Someone please tell me!
Finally (and I really mean finally now), it’s time to come full circle, so to speak; or quite simply, to wrap this thing up, let’s consider that random, review-opening question one more time. Is an original [of anything–memories, humans, and the like] more authentic than a clone? The second, third, fourth, or however many more are just exact copies of the original, aren’t they? Aren’t such things somehow less valuable, at least for their most valuable, sentimental purposes? After writing this review, I’m still not sure–if it even really matters; however, for closure, I’m gravitating, in my sci-fi twisted, movie-loving mind toward an answer that transcends equality and cosmic correctness. Why am I even asking the damned question? Yes, for the love of god, why? Perhaps a cloned memory, repressed in my cloned mind, is fighting not to be forgotten as I write this. Perhaps one’s struggle to resist “oblivion” defines and affirms its authenticity. Such deep thoughts must surely come from a deep (and great) movie…right?
“Now, wait just a minute!” you say. What about Lien Mya Nguyen’s points of critical concern? Does Oblivion still make its extraterrestrial debut worthy for earthbound audiences? Absolutely yes! Is it a clone of too many movies from its past, with too many stupid mistakes? Absolutely not! Is it doomed to a fate matching the definition of its title–forgotten? Absolutely not! Oblivion, even with its share of head-scratching moments, is still a cinematic force to see, also worthy of the extra bucks for IMAX! So, fuel up your space-going rockets and put a little extra cash in your pocket. To use the slightly-altered words of Captain Jean Luc Picard, “Mr. Data, lay in a course for [Oblivion]. I suspect our future is there waiting for us.”
Oh, and in case you’re now craving that Picard quote, in his own words, sans Oblivion, but no less satisfying, click on the sound bite below, and “Make it so.” 😀
For a description of Rocket Rating 8, click on the Rocket Meter above!