Interesting story, amazing visuals in Oblivion

Carljoe Javier

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After Summer Komikon, keep your sci-fi mood revved up by watching 'Oblivion'

BRACE YOURSELF. Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise in 'Oblivion.' Photo from the 'Oblivion' Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – The Earth has been ravaged by a war that has left it a husk. Its oceans are being scavenged for seawater that can be converted into energy. Once that is done the planet will be abandoned altogether as the remnants of the human race move to Titan, a moon of Saturn. 

This is the back story that we are provided when we meet Jack (Tom Cruise playing yet another Jack) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who are on the last leg of their tour of duty. In two weeks, they rejoin the rest of the human race. For the meantime, they finish the work, making sure that systems are operational, repairing droids, and fighting off their enemies, the Scavengers. 

The thing is, Jack keeps having flashbacks, dreams, and what seem like memories. He knows it’s impossible, because there was a mandatory mind-wipe for the good of mankind, and these are visions of New York before the war, before he was even born.

From the description so far, you can probably gather that more than being an original concept, “Oblivion” is a mix of a lot of different sci-fi concepts kind of mashed up together into one movie. There’s the post-apocalypse, there’s the isolated station, the fragmented memory of a main character hinting at a different history and back story. And as the film progresses, if you’ve got a good sense of sci-fi, you can pretty much predict everywhere that it will go. 

But this doesn’t take away from it. Rather, “Oblivion’s” brilliance is in its ability to actually bring together a number of different kinds of movies. While some might call it all a rip-off, I take it more as a riffing on sci-fi flicks, both recent and classic. What happens as you watch is that you are treated to a number of different movies, all set within the general parameters of the world of “Oblivion.”

It’s actually a pretty nifty trick. I imagine a drinking game could be made for spotting sci-fi tropes throughout. I’m not listing any here because any of it would be spoiler-ific. 

What makes it effective is director Joseph Kosinki’s approach to building his world. At the opening and throughout the film, we are provided with expansive landscapes which establish the desolation and destruction that have come to define the world.

The pace of the film is slow and deliberate. It moves at light speed in comparison to something like “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Solaris,” but there is a definite feeling that it is drawing on some of the qualities of those movies. It doesn’t beat you over the head with breakneck speed plot points, but rather it reveals itself little by little. 

I enjoy the movie’s willingness to bask in quiet moments. It takes its time, sometimes to the detriment of the plot. And it clocks in at a shade over two hours. This will test some viewers who are already used to the quick cuts and hyper pace that a lot of Hollywood movies take. Make no mistake about it, this is definitely a Hollywood summer flick, but it moves slower than most, so that it can build its world and develop its characters. 

Another thing that the film does well is that it gradually gets bigger. It moves from one set-up to another, exploring its possibilities, then moving to the next thing. I found it a little frustrating that there were a lot of other stories in the film that were left untold.

It isn’t so much that the plot has gaping holes, but that the world building and character creation make for significant gaps in which other interesting stories could be told. But again, it’s just a feature film with a limited run-time, so we get the main line. (The film is based on a graphic novel, so perhaps that’s a format that might allow for such explorations.)

I can see how people might be repelled by “Oblivion.” The number one stumbling block for some viewers might be Cruise himself, whose online persona is just as good at driving people away as he is at drawing them in. And the high-concept (though not really) sci-fi might make the summer fun filmgoer think twice.

But I think that this movie is well worth the time. It delivers an interesting story, some amazing visuals, and good action. –

Carljoe Javier

Carljoe Javier doesn’t know why people think he’s a snarky film critic who spends his time dashing the hopes of filmgoers. He thinks he’s not all that bad, really. He teaches at the State U, writes books, and studies film, comics, and video games…Then again, those people could be right.

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