May 6, 2013

[Movies] Oblivion (2013)

I appreciated Tom Cruise as an early actor. Yes, Top Gun was a lot of fun and movies like A Few Good Men were pretty impressive. But in more recent years it feels too much like he's pushing the limits of his range as an action-adventure type of movie star. And yet he keeps plunging back into these roles and it just sorta weirds me out at this point. I mean seriously, the guy is 50 years old. It's really getting a little more than weird at this point.

Oblivion is another of those movies that are really weird action movies draped in a science fiction premise. And I say this given the core story wasn't particularly great or even good. It was just...there. And the rest of the movie involved a lot of Tom Cruise being all action star like as he runs around, shoots at stuff and runs some more.

To be fair, the movie was certainly visually impressive, and thus it carries with it the usual trappings of a summer blockbuster type of contender. But final execution wasn't quite there - and I admit this may be more from my geeky science fiction perspective more than my average movie-goer view.

I'll try to explain more in this review.

Synopsis: Oblivion is a 2013 science fiction movie directed and primarily written by Joseph Kosinski. Other screenplay writers include William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt. The story was based on an unpublished graphic novel by Kosinski, but let's get into that a little later.

In a post-apocalyptic 2077 Earth, we are introduced to Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), also know as Tech 49. He and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) work together to maintain the drones left guarding the last of the massive generators gathering energy from the planet before leaving Earth behind entirely. After an invasion by an alien race now only know as the Scavs, the survivors of humanity now live on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Jack and Victoria are the last humans on the planet and they'll join the rest of the survivors once their mission is complete.

But Jack has been having odd dreams as of late - dreams of the New York before the invasion. And this is particularly strange given both he and Victoria had had their memories wiped at the start of the mission 5 years ago - one of the many security precautions against Scav survivors still active on Earth. And when the crew pod of the ancient spacecraft Odyssey crashes to Earth with the woman from Jack's dreams being one of the astronauts in hibernation, things certainly change for Jack in more ways than one.

Now the movie is quite visually stunning - and we only watched it in standard 2D and not in 3D. And given Kosinski's past work is pretty much just Tron Legacy, there's really not much to say beyond that. Like Oblivion, the Tron sequel was most certainly a visual masterpiece but a little thin in the story department in some aspects. In this regard one can say that man has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve for the most part.

Now let's address the graphic novel issue. In this age of sequels and adaptations, there does appear to be the notion that making movies based on pre-existing content is a safer bet for Hollywood studios that has a supposedly greater chance of yielding better financial returns. But I'm not too clear on why they hope to use the graphic novel angle to help market this movie when the graphic novel was never published. Worse, the story was conceived as a comic book during the 2007 Writer's Strike, thus it's apparent that the comic book medium was really just a way to develop a movie plot without breaking the rules of the strike. In my book, had the comic been published somehow (even as a web comic), that would have been sufficient. Then there would be some sort of fan base to tap into for this movie's marketing push. But since it wasn't released, it's not like anyone could say that they were an Oblivion fan before the movie's release.

The story is both familiar and new at the same time - mainly because it seems to borrow a lot of concepts from other science fiction stories that had come before it. I won't go into detail about which aspects seem borrowed - let's just say that it was an interesting enough mix for the most part. Draw what connections as you will. Beyond the feeling of things being borrowed, a lot of the plotting did feel highly predictable. There's the old saying about how a gun will need to be fired once introduced into a story. In this case, it felt like there were loaded revolvers all over the place and we had our free selection of which ones to pick up. They all got fired eventually.

I'm really concerned for Tom Cruise at this point. Sure, he does appear to be more pumped than ever despite him being 50 years old already. And I'm not saying that he shouldn't be acting. I'm just not sure if I really want to see him still in the running, tumbling, grappling kind of action star that he insists on portraying. There are always going to be those moments when it really hits you how old he is and how he's not exactly the guy from Top Gun anymore.

I wasn't too impressed with the supporting cast. Victoria, as played by Andrea Riseborough, was probably one of the better characters around. I wasn't too keen on the woman of Jack's dreams - played by Olga Kurylenko. She oddly reminded me of Thandie Newton from Mission: Impossible II - still exotic, but not quite the same beauty. I wonder if Cruise has a certain type of girl that he's into for these supporting roles. Otherwise, the rest of the group wasn't all that essential (and discussing them would be a major spoiler) and probably didn't have much of an opportunity to shine given the circumstances.

Oblivion is an okay movie when you get down to it. It's certainly entertaining, but try not to focus too much on the finer details so you don't get annoyed or you don't see plot developments to their logical end before the story calls for it. Thus the movie can only get 3 ridiculous technological developments like the transparent swimming pool out of a possible score of 5.

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