At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Oblivion “2013”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Oblivion “2013”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Post Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Action/Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoë Bell/Runtime: 124 minutes

I think it’s safe to start this review off dear reader by telling you that if there is one group of individuals in the land of movie magic that have had my deepest sympathies for awhile now it would undoubtedly be the distinct group known as “film helmers who decide to focus on making disaster-rooted sci-fi films”. I say that because it really has become quite the cinematic challenge to give an audience a genuinely gripping entry in that distinct genre of movie magic. Sure, at one time all you had to do was have Charlton Heston, a planet full of talking apes, and a gut punch of an ending that is still talked about to this day, but do you really think that’s enough to provide the modern-day viewer with the right amount of magic? Along with that, can we really say that the destruction found in sci-fi disaster movies is any better? I mean seriously dear reader if you really think about it 98% of the major cities and/or landmarks have been the target of some serious renovation jobs the past 20-30 years in cinema. Indeed New York City has been flooded, iced-up, and decimated by monsters, Atlanta has suffered from a massive outbreak of the undead, Los Angeles was flattened by tornadoes, and even Mt. Rushmore was invaded by the worst disaster of them all: Nicolas Cage in National Treasure 2. Jokes aside though, perhaps it is for this reason that any film helmer who wishes to dabble in sci-fi and give audiences a genuine pathos-driven right hook courtesy of taking the world around us and changing it in a way that is truly unreal and/or heartbreaking has quite the task ahead of them. Having said that though dear reader, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible for a helmer to conjure up some pathos and genuine magic/creativity from a sci-fi film that presents a destructive future for our species. All they would really need is an intriguing cast of characters, lively and well-penned dialogue, a riveting narrative, and fantastic work at bringing their vision to life. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today, 2013’s Oblivion, is one film that manages to come quite to being that kind of movie. Indeed the story is fairly intriguing, the cast of players all give fairly good performances, and the work at bringing the world of the film to life is truly breathtaking. Yet for all of that good, this slice of cinema is also tragically hindered by a script that is the worst kind of predictable imaginable. Suffice it to say then that no Oblivion might not be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, but darn it all if it isn’t a fairly engaging and entertaining cinematic ride all the same.

The plot is as follows: Based on an unpublished graphic novel by its helmer, Oblivion gets underway in the far-off future year of 2077 where we are introduced to a guy by the name of Jack Harper. A guy, we rather quickly learn, is a highly skilled member of that group known as repairmen who resides in a tower that is far up in the sky with his work (and personal if you get my drift) partner Victoria. Yet this isn’t a Hilton high rise of the future they’re living in and these two aren’t ordinary individuals. You see dear reader Jack and Victoria are actually the last people who are current occupants of the planet Earth. Oh yes I guess I forgot to mention: About 6 decades prior to the start of our story, Earth found itself the recipient of a hostile invasion by a group of extraterrestrial beings known as the Scavs who decided they wanted what we had for themselves (how rude!). Thus, in an effort to make their task easier, the Scavs obliterated our moon which in turn triggered calamity after calamity on a global level before then deciding to start their pre-scheduled invasion. Remarkably though, according to the lore of the film, mankind was able to fight back against the alien race and win the war, but unfortunately it came at a cost of making the Earth completely uninhabitable due to the utilization of every single nuclear weapon on the planet. As a result, the Earth was left a desolate landscape and the people who survived either were sent to the celestial body Titan or to a giant ship known as the Tet. With that in mind, we see that Jack and Victoria’s task is to repair/monitor an army of drones that not only protect machines that are gathering energy for mankind to utilize at their new home sweet home, but also to find and eliminate any Scavs that survived the final assault. However, when Jack sees a mysterious spacecraft of sorts crash land on Earth’s surface during a typical day at the office we see that the contents of that craft will mark the first steps of a rather unique adventure for our hero. One that will not only make him question everything he has ever known about the most incredible battle in the history of humanity, but also give him the chance to change the history of our species as well. As for if he is successful in this endeavor to say nothing of what he discovers that I will leave for yourself dear reader….

Now right off the bat of ol’, it is worth noting that the work done behind the camera is to an extent a cinematic mixed bag in every sense of the word. This starts with the fact that if Kosinski’s first movie, 2010’s highly underrated Tron: Legacy, provided movie goers with a world that felt more like one in a video game than personable in any way, this slice of cinema manages to gift audiences with an increased amount of human-rooted pathos at play. Even so, there is no denying that due in large part to the fact that this slice of cinema is very much meant to be a feast for your eyes rather than your brain the main elements that are definitely worthy of praise are very much things that I feel safe discussing here without worrying about you guys calling me out for giving you even a hint of a spoiler. This starts with the fact that, aside from some narration you would expect to hear in a film noir as well as some thrilling action beats including one in what is supposed to be the remnants of the New York Public Library, this film’s first half does a wonderful job at taking its time bringing us into this world whilst also showcasing for us firsthand the main character’s extreme solitude. Even whilst this is going on however, we see that film helmer Kosinski does not hesitate to showcase as much as possible the jaw-droppingly beautiful visuals on display that were incredibly conjured up by Darren Gilford, shot magnificently smoothly by the absolutely brilliant Claudio Miranda, and backed up tremendously well by an phenomenal musical accompaniment from a band known as M83 that gives this film a score that feels very much like one Hans Zimmer would respectively. Along with those elements, it is also worth noting that the work done by the creative team behind the camera in bringing everything from Jack and Victoria’s high-rise (literally) home office/luxury apartment of sorts and the various vehicles Jack utilizes in his day to day at work (I mean don’t look at that incredible motorcycle he rides in and tell me that wouldn’t be cool to have) all the way to the combat drones that Jack performs maintenance on and which all operate as a weird, slightly ominous, and yet oddly effective blend of Wall*E and a splash of the Ed-209 from RoboCop that is fanfreakingtastic. I mean not only do all these items look incredible, but they also look very much like items that we as a species could very well develop in the next 3-4 decades. Having said all of that though dear reader, there is one particular element behind the camera that I am perhaps a wee bit annoyed about. That being that although this slice of cinema’s narrative operates on a very relaxed playbook works quite well, it does start running into problems when we start to get answers and it isn’t long before pretty soon it all manages to unfurl with a lot more ease than it really ought to. To be sure, the plot is definitely clever to an extent, but the void of novelty let alone originality that starts to form becomes quite difficult for this film to get past and as a result the overall movie does suffer a fair bit because of it. Thus yes there is a significant amount of work done behind the camera that is worth marveling at, but those elements are also let down by the fact that the narrative is nowhere near as original as it really could’ve, and arguably should’ve, been.

Of course, the other big component that helps this movie work on the level that it is ultimately able to attain would have to come from the performances given by the immensely talented cast of players in front of the camera as well. This starts with Tom Cruise in the lead role of Jack Harper and, to no surprise, he is terrific. Indeed not only does Cruise do a great job at making this guy someone who is less a stock character in a sci-fi movie and more like someone who is both affable and acts like a genuine flesh and blood human being (with particular regard for the action beats where Cruise as is typical showcases in a variety of ways that time may come and go for 99.9% of the population, but not him). More than that though, we see that Cruise also does a great job in another, rather unexpected, avenue for the character. That being in the moments where the film slows things down a bit and just has the character ruminating on things in an almost melancholic-based silence. Indeed for all the deserved praise and bravado that Cruise gets for his dedication to action beats, stunts, and things of that nature people often forget that the man is also a terrific actor even when he’s not working with those elements and he definitely showcases that here. Suffice it to say that it might not be the best performance this genuine icon has ever given, but by no means is it the worst either. We also get a genuinely good co-starring performance here from Andrea Riseborough as Jack’s partner Victoria. Indeed Riseborough manages to combine a near-deranged at times obsession for the rules with an almost cold-blooded manner at trying to keep Jack’s increasingly unpredictable behavior in check quite well. Along with these two, we also get a wonderful performance from Olga Kurylenko as a woman named Julia. Now there’s not a whole lot I can really say about this character due to spoilers, but what I can say is that Kurylenko does manage to do a great job at not only being quite soulful and heartfelt in a role that at times does seem a bit underwritten, but also in having chemistry with Cruise that actually feels organic rather than forced in any way. Now I have always enjoyed seeing Morgan Freeman pop up in movies and the truth is that the man is always able to bring a degree of gravitas and/or sage wisdom to any part that he plays. Yet whilst that is definitely the case here, it is always worth pointing out that Freeman is also (despite his billing) only in the movie for maybe 30-35 minutes tops and more or less a character that is meant to serve as an exposition dump to an extent. With that said though, Freeman does do a great job with the amount of screentime he is given, but the movie definitely could have benefited from making his part both longer and maybe a tad bit less predictable. Far and away though, the support cast MVP for me would have to be Melissa Leo in the role of Mission Director Sally. Indeed I don’t know if it’s the southern twang she’s working with, the fact that she is seemingly always cheerful and upbeat, or both, but Leo does a terrific job at making this character one that seems pleasant enough whilst also containing just the right hint of something unnerving and/or ominous to them as well.  Suffice it to say then that yes the work done by the cast in front of the camera is certainly engaging, but if the script for this had been better penned then they all could have brought something quite special to the table instead.

All in all is Oblivion a perfect slice of sci-fi cinema? Nope, negatory, nada. Not even close dear reader. Having said that though, is this by any stretch of the imagination a bonafide cinematic disaster that one should avoid at any and all cost? Honestly I wouldn’t say that either. If anything I would say that this slice of cinema is the perfect example of “good and entertaining, but not great by any means either”. Yes, this film’s greatest weakness without question is not only the fact that it’s script feels significantly undercooked, but it also is more than just a wee bit on the predictable side with regards to the series of twists that it is hiding up its respective sleeves. With that being said though, the work done behind the camera in bringing this truly distinct take on the world around us to life is nothing short of absolutely majestic right down to the jaw-droppingly beautiful visual effects and the film’s alluring and at times quite hypnotic musical accompaniment, the narrative is (despite the aforementioned predictability factor very much in play) quite intriguing to an extent, and the immensely talented cast of players in front of the camera all do the best they can with the respective material afforded to them by the script with particular regard (surprise surprise) to lead actor Tom Cruise who, as par for the course, manages to bring his A-game and then some to the film to wonderful effect. Suffice it to say then dear reader that Oblivion might not obliterate the memories you have of better entries in its particular subgenre of movie magic, but it will without a doubt prove to be a rather enjoyable obliteration of a couple of hours that, in the process, will wind up giving you a fairly engaging cinematic viewing experience should you be in need of a movie to do that for you for whatever reason. Make of that dear reader what thou will. On a scale of 1-5 I give Oblivion “2013” a solid 3.5 out of 5.