Familiar Horizons

OblivionOblivion (2013)

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

Written by: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt

Cinematography by: Claudio Miranda

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman,
Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough

Rating: B+

Familiar’s not always a bad thing; at least not on the big screen. We’ve allowed for countless remakes, reimaginings, and reiterations, of every possible genre–be it drama, horror, or romantic comedy. Science fiction however, is trickier in that regard. By its very nature, it’s almost required–by both the audience, and those creating it–to expand upon the unconventional, showing us things we’ve perhaps never seen before. It’s expected to challenge us while still charming us, and failure to do so leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, so we begin to make comparisons to all that came before, and throw upon it allegations of trying to be something it couldn’t be; trying to be something it’s not, but more importantly [to us], trying to be something we won’t allow it be.

Oblivion is not the most original sci-fi film you’ll ever see, and I’m totally okay with that.

It’s the year 2077. We are told that Earth was destroyed 60 years ago when aliens known as Scavs took out our moon, invaded, and decimated the land, making it uninhabitable. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are in charge of protecting Earth’s remaining resources, and sending them to a space station called Tet, controlled by Sally (Melissa Leo), which in turn sends those resources to Titan, a survivor’s colony on Saturn’s largest moon. When an unexpected spacecraft crashes while Jack is on patrol, he meets its lone survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko), sending him on a journey of self-discovery.

Tom Cruise has yet to disappoint me in a role. There’s a reason Cruise’s lasting power at the box office has remained, and it’s primarily because no matter how far his star rises, he is ultimately believable as an everyman, even on an uninhabited planet where he is literally the only man. We happily follow him to the ends of the Earth because we feel the same sense of attachment to this planet that he does; that despite the ruins, it is still our home, and perhaps can be once again. Andrea Riseborough is exceptional in her role, and I only wish I’d noticed her sooner. She breathes immense life into Victoria, and makes for a perfect partner to Harper; the right balance of heartfelt and heartbreaking confusion. Likewise, Olga’s portrayal of Julia, while full of unwritten depth, fell short for me primarily because it was not nearly as well explored as Victoria’s, in relation to Jack. Melissa Leo’s Sally is absolutely grating in the best possible way, and Morgan Freeman is effective without being excessive.

Take your pick: Total Recall (1990), The Matrix (1999)Wall-E (2008), and even Moon (2009) come to mind, among many others, when attempting to make connections to Oblivion, either as mere visual cues or even to vague plot points; but as my preface to this review states: it’s not necessarily a hindrance towards my enjoyment of the final product. If anything, I see it less as a sense of lacking originality, and more of a director’s deep love of the material, but more importantly, the genre itself; almost a tribute to all that has come before it, and an attempt to carve one’s name upon it as well.

This is director Joseph Kosinski’s second feature, after TRON: Legacy (2011), and to say the man has improved leaps and bounds in almost every aspect of his production/direction efforts is perhaps an understatement. I adored Legacy, probably for all the wrong reasons (Daft Punk score represent), but even its many detractors couldn’t argue with the visual aesthetics and ability to create a unique world for the moviegoer. Oblivion only places its bets a little higher, and in the process, Kosinski manages to create a world that has a lot more heart to go along with its well designed architecture than his previous venture. Everything feels a lot more tangible given Kosinski’s deft handling of not just the material, but the actors and attributes involved in bringing it to life in such vivid detail.

I was surprised most by the film’s simplicity in both presenting and piecing together this seemingly complex world and everything in it. For the film’s first hour or so, all we witness is Jack doing his job, doing it well, and coming back to base. He detours every now and then, so we can catch a glimpse of how ravaged the Earth has become, but all the while, there is an unmistakable sense of humanity forever searching to find beauty again; and never has a dystopian future looked truly so magnificent. If you get a chance to catch it in IMAX, you’ll no doubt be in awe at the lush clouds while in flight, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets as far as the eye can see, unexplored snow covered mountains, deep canyons, and even the base itself, complete with a suspended swimming pool. This world is carefully crafted, right down to the types of vehicles and weapons, and we’re left to immerse ourselves in it at every turn–sometimes I’d argue, at the expense of the narrative. Add to it an absolutely enchanting score by M83, and it’s a world I never wanted to leave, and wouldn’t mind exploring further without such constraints.

Is it possible to miss a place you’ve never been? To mourn a time you never lived?