Review : Oblivion (2013)
"Earth is a memory worth fighting for."
Released (UK) 10th April 2013, Rated 12A. Runtime: 124 minutes (2 hours, 4 minutes).
Official Synopsis: A veteran assigned to extract Earth's remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.
Blue Corner Review, by Pete
Added April 16th, 2013
As part of a two man crew responsible for defending the Earth’s few precious remaining natural resources after a devastating alien attack, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) works alongside partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) to maintain a series of aerial defence drones used for shielding the nearby harvesters – massive automated machinery used to absorb sea water – from hostile ‘Scav’ attacks. Now 2077 and with our moon destroyed, the Earth itself is a barren wasteland, ravaged between the effects of the moon’s destruction and largely irradiated thanks to the human race having been forced to nuke our own planet to defeat the alien attackers – a pyrrhic victory if ever there was one. The cost of survival was simply too high, forcing the remaining members of the human race forced to travel to Saturn’s moon Titan where they hope to start a new life.
Other than a daily status update from mission commander Sally (Melisso Leo), housed upon the TET – an orbital space station from which all remaining Earth-based operations are being led – Jack & Victoria live in complete isolation on-board what can only really be described as a luxury house on massive stilts, sitting just above the clouds. A ‘mandatory memory wipe for security reasons’ five years ago means that no-one knows of their lives before the war, although fragments of memories appear to remain – something that Jack feels the need to connect with, much to the distain of Victoria. As communications officer her role is to scan for hostiles, directing Jack as he does the ‘hands-on’ repair work on the drones – a dangerous proposition when the parties responsible for attacking them are just as intent on taking him out too. He revels in his surface time, particularly if mementoes of Earth’s past can be obtained during the trip, contrary to Victoria who cannot see past the task at hand and the rules that go along with it – in her eyes, just a few more weeks means that the two can finally leave the planet with their work done, re-joining the remnants of human civilisation on Titan.
As seemingly routine repairs raise new information about the Scavs,
Ethan Hunt’s Jack’s inquisitive nature puts him at odds with Victoria, especially when discovery of a crashed escape pod reveals the woman from his recurring dreams – Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko). As the trail of breadcrumbs are followed and the true story behind the Scav attacks is revealed, led by Beech (Morgan Freeman) and Sykes Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jack is forced to reconcile what he is and bring the battle to the alien’s looking to wrestle control Earth’s resources. The initial desolation of Jack and Victoria allowed for a slow build up, with the odd interjection of humour provided by the aerial drones – surprising, given that these are automated and efficiently lethal killing machines incapable of communication beyond beeps and gunfire. An impressive level of tension is created each time we see these faceless flying golf balls hover eerily, deciding if who should live and die.
For a film from Tron: Legacy (2010) Director Joseph Kosinski, it came as no real surprise that the film was visually striking (it’s genuinely beautifully shot) from start to finish, although the purported £120m budget won’t have hurt there either. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such mixed feelings for a film, perhaps accentuated here because of just how must I genuinely loved the first 2/3rds of the movie – the slow yet (for me) perfectly paced build up, even with some painfully telegraphed plot points, worked so well, with the Director managing to create a genuine sense of foreboding as we follow
Jack Reacher’s Jack Harper’s exploration of the truth behind events on Earth. From the moment an entirely out of place chase sequence is thrust upon us, however, the film quickly decends into a mess, turning what was a quieter, arguably more emotional character-driven story film into a laboured action-centric piece. The tension derived from the pace the film originally ran at evaporates entirely, leaving a rushed final third devoid of any form of meaningful plot development or feeling as it attempts to squeeze in an overly convoluted resolution to proceedings. My recurring issue with movie trailers also provided a sore point here, with Freeman having been needlessly featured in them – for me, this sadly revealed that the Scavs were not going to be alien before we had entered the theatre.
One of the most intriguing story elements for me was Victoria, having felt that her character also had memory fragments just like Jack but had elected to intentionally go along with this new life, having finally got to be with the man she loved. As a result, Riseborough for me gives the best performance of the limited cast, getting to show a vulnerability and sadness to reflect the inability or, in my eyes, unwillingness, to accept the rather disturbing truth behind her situation – although not verbally confirmed, there appears to be a recognition of Julia after her escape pod is retrieved by
Maverick Jack, suggesting she may also remember who she actually is. Victoria’s devotion to strictly adhering to rules and procedures could be interpreted the same way – the reluctance to change anything which could jeopardise this life with Jack, regardless of the dark reality behind it, only further serves to reinforce my belief that she’s fighting to keep the status quo, rather than looking to discover the truth. Conversely, Julia appears to be lacking the depth and complexity of character given to us in the form of Victoria, if not any form of emotions – for a woman who wakes up after sixty years to discover that her husband doesn’t remember her, that he is now with her colleague and that almost all of mankind is dead (largely killed by Jack), she seems quite happy to just get on with things and not ask many questions.
In some ways I was pleased that the script didn’t quite stick to the inevitable and make Jack tricked into fighting on the wrong side, even if this would have been preferable, but the clone army seems a massively flawed choice given the way it was handled – for an alien life form that can so easily create tens of thousands of Jacks (and we see that there’s tens of thousands still left fully developed on the TET) to decide that having just a small handful remaining on the planet would be enough to maintain their fleet of lethal automated killing machines seems misguided, just as using an army of Jacks to start with feels wasteful – the time and resources put into creating and maintaining these relatively fragile human bodies would have been better spent on constructing more of their near indestructible EVE-esque aerial units. If it has to be a biological army for some reason, make every Jack 25 foot tall with eight arms, or simply go all out and make it a squadron of Godzillas instead.
The first wave of Jacks who wiped out much of humankind seems to have had no issue with hunting down and slaughtering their own kin, yet the current batch appears to have been given back stories, lied to about who is left on the planet (current model Jack now being aghast at the idea of the drones attacking humans) and put up in extravagant custom-built Playboy Mansion-esque pads (presumably wave two of “The Jack” had been programmed to be a squad of dedicated designers, builders and interior decorators). There has to be easier ways for aliens to steal our resources than making sure that each member of their clone army has access to a private luxury swimming pool and some nice furnishings (not to mention the presumably regular food drops, including chewing gum), just as the human survivors disguising themselves in Predator-esque armour to hide from drone attacks appears to have been somewhat self-defeating given that Jack would have fought alongside them had he known that they were indeed human. Other than giving the viewer the impression that these were alien creatures, why did some of the “Scavs” run around on all fours? Reinforcing Jack’s belief that they were alien was of no advantage whatsoever, particularly as this only served to make them easier targets (I’m positive that one Scav was sliding along on their body at one stage too).
For the finale there was absolutely no reason for the TET to allow Jack on board, especially with it being known that he had been ‘off programming’ for some time come that point, just as there was no practical need or justifiable case for the TET to want Julia to be brought up to it – she is no different to the presumably billions of others who have been killed in the war. Equally, it appeared odd that there was no way for it to scan and detect the radiation emanating from the nuclear device that Jack had handily smuggled on-board. Was the finale better than someone uploading a computer virus to the TET via an Apple laptop, a-la Independence Day? Yes, but that doesn’t make giving this advanced alien space scavenger a bizarre mental deficiency akin to a Bond villain a good thing. The very reason for the sacrifice being made by Jack and Beech was that the drone they had initially planned to use to carry the bomb had been destroyed – for some reason they chose to ignore the other perfectly serviceable one lying within the ‘radiation zone’ that Jack had handily removed the power cell from just earlier that day.
From 2001 to Solyris, Mad Max to Moon, and Independence Day to I Am Legend, there are probably few films that have not been borrowed or drawn from in some way, shape or form, although for me this cannot be a criticism in itself if those elements are adapted, expanded and used intelligently to benefit the story. That Oblivion came so close, in my eyes, to being a great film makes the final result all the more frustrating – if ever I have wanted a Director’s Cut of a film, albeit featuring a whole new final third in this instance, this would be it.