What Do You See?
I came out of the screening with a grin. Oblivion was good. So good, I was mesmerized from start to end, and was rooted to my seat throughout. I didn't want it to end, and dreaded as the minutes ticked by to the inevitable finale. It had everything I hoped for in a science fiction film, and more. There was of course the genre elements, a steeped emotional and romantic core, plus a mystery that played out without having to spell everything verbatim in chronological fashion, keeping you wondering just what had happened to give it its premise.
Written by Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, and directed by the Kasinski, who was also responsible for bringing a new spin to the TRON: Legacy, Kasinski traded the dark settings of that film for the light and bright, minimalist and futuristic look at Earth some 60 years after 2017, where unknown alien forces had taken out Earth's moon, and plunging the planet into chaos with its unpredictable forces of mother nature ravaging it, followed by an invasion that took out most of the human population. The war was won, but at the expense of the planet since the nuclear fallout made it uninhabitable. So the survivors made that interplanetary migration to Saturn's moon Titan, leaving behind a skeletal crew of two - Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) - some drones, and a forward base controller (Melissa Leo) to harness energy from the oceans. And of course to mop up what's left of the alien race still down on earth.
However, that's what we're lulled to believe, as we follow the typical day of Jack and Victoria, who wake up, get to work, with Jack essentially being a human Wall.E, repairing broken down drones, and patrolling their assigned territory from the skies. Jack and Victoria enjoy life as per any typical couple with not much for recreation at night, but there's something niggling in Jack's mind, being haunted by memories of a strange, beautiful female (Olga Kurylenko), something that shouldn't happen given their mind wipe, and whose unannounced, surprising presence threatens to upset their entire couple harmony, and their effectiveness as a team. Three's a crowd and making things worse is when jealousy enters the picture.
To say any more would be to ruin the many surprises in store, which lead to the many revelations that when pieced together will make perfect sense, since the writers kept the cards close to their chests, revealing crucial plot points at intervals, which is frustrating yet satisfying, and well worth the wait, although sometimes at the expense of pace, or editing continuity that wasn't as smooth as it would have liked to be. But no matter. Granted that the expositions won't be anything new, with genre cliches abound that the fans amongst us would be able to predict, but it's how these elements come together so perfect that makes Oblivion such a worthwhile watch. Yes there are the sleekly designed vehicles befitting a sci-fi flick here, with the necessary attention to detail and explanation to make everything seem plausible for this apocalyptic vision of the future.
But I love the emotional core that anchored the film a hell lot more, so much so that I dare say not a lot of films, and a science fiction one at that, managed to move. It deals with the longing of a normal life, which Jack had desired as he slips off the radar now and then to build that illusion of an idyllic life in a pocket of paradise he found, with reason of course to come later in the narrative. And the love triangle was well played out, where its beginnings couldn't come any simpler than a brush, a touch and a photograph, all very fleeting, to sucker punch it through to your heart. And just how all these humanity blends so well with the CG-ed technology on display, that made it unbelievably solid.
Tom Cruise is a very different animal here altogether, without his usual toothy grin (save for one involving skinny dipping - who wouldn't?), and being a lot more serious, sombre and contemplative with his character, that worked wonders. No doubt the obvious hero in the film, many elements of heroism got played down to make it a simple fight for the survival of a loved one, without grandeur plans of needing to save the day at the forefront. Olga Kurylenko may be the flower vase here, but what an effective one playing opposite Cruise for the first time, with her sheer presence making it believable the extent a man would go out for her. Andrea Riseborough, being the relative rookie amongst the three, also stood her own, playing what would be a tragic character seeing her blissful future snatched from under her feet. Her subtleness in her final scene in the film, spoke volumes of her ability to say so much with so little.
A couple of scenes that stood out for me, such as the black and white flashback scene involving Jack and Julia (Kurylenko) when they meet before going up the Empire State Building, communications between Victoria and Jack when their perfect teaming started to give way, together with just above every revelation that had Jack flabergasted, and those sweeping cinematography of landscapes of a broken Earth. And what provided this film that extra dimension, is the excellent and hauntingly beautiful score by M83 that lifts this film into another emotional stratosphere altogether, that without which, the movie isn't likely going to be as memorable, or emotional, as it got made out to be.
Watch Oblivion on the IMAX screen no less, for those awesome visuals to envelope right up to the peripherals of your vision, and for that crystal clear pounding of the soundscapes and soundtrack right into your aural senses. This is the modern day treatment of The Wachowski's The Matrix in a certain way without the philosophical babble, but my, I'd give it five stars and a perfect ten! A definite recommendation, and a firm entry into my shortlist as one of the best films this year so far!