Oblivion – Scott’s Review – Film Dispenser

Film April 20, 2013 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

Science fiction has always been a genre that needs “scope”. It is storytelling on a grand scale. It’s tailor-made for 1000-page novels from the likes of Peter F. Hamilton and Neal Stephenson and multi-season television series like Battlestar Galactica and Fringe. It needs a large canvas to unfold a complex story being told against the backdrop of a strange new environment. Good science fiction is imaginative world-building meshed with solid character development crossed with cool gadgets and propelled by action and adventure. And that is a great deal to squeeze into a single two-hour film. One or more of those elements is almost always deficient or missing altogether.

Such is not the case with Oblivion. It may not be entirely original, and you may recognize some of its component parts from other, better science fiction films, but it is still a worthy addition to the science fiction canon. Prior to the opening credits, a succinct voiceover sets the scene. Nearly 60 years ago, an extraterrestrial enemy nicknamed the Scavengers (or Scavs for short) attacked Earth. First, they destroyed the moon, setting off tidal and seismic shifts across our planet that threw our world into chaos. With our defenses weakened, the Scavengers began the ground war to conquer our planet. Humans fought back by detonating nuclear weapons that defeated our enemy, but laid waste to our home and contaminated our environment beyond repair.

Following the war, humans relocated to Titan, a moon orbiting Saturn. Earth has been reduced to an automated outpost designed to extract the resources our planet has left. An army of drones and the few humans left behind for quality control constantly monitor the “mining” operation. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) has two weeks remaining on his tour as a drone repair technician, and then he and his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) will leave our dying planet and join the rest of mankind on Titan.

For security purposes, Jack and Victoria have undergone a “memory wipe”. Should they fall into enemy hands, neither of them can provide any useful intelligence to an enemy. Their memories begin at the time they were assigned to their repair and surveillance mission on Earth. However, there are cracks forming in Jack’s psyche. He wrestles with vivid dreams that are disconcertingly real. He and a beautiful woman who seems familiar are meeting at the Empire State Building – a landmark that has been in ruins for over sixty years.

Are these truly just dreams? Are they memories that weren’t properly wiped? But how could they be memories, when Jack wasn’t alive sixty years ago? And those are questions that I will not answer here though I assure you that there are no loose ends remaining by the film’s conclusion.

Oblivion is anchored by Cruise’s performance, and it’s hard to imagine someone else in the role. He projects an earnestness and believability that carries the film. We’ve seen this character embodied by Cruise before in Minority Report and War of the Worlds just to name a couple of his previous sci-fi credits. He has the Everyman quality of a Cary Grant or a Jimmy Stewart from an Alfred Hitchcock film where a regular guy is in over his head and trying valiantly to process the incomprehensible situation in which he finds himself. When you consider that the vast majority of his scenes were performed in front of a blank green screen that will later be replaced by images of a post-apocalyptic Earth, you come to admire Cruise’s performance even more.

For three-fourths of the film, the script puts us firmly in the Philip K. Dick school of science fiction where identity, memory, and the nature of perception are on center stage every bit as much as space gliders, drone fights and digital pyrotechnics. The final quarter of the film threatens to descend into the usual sci-fi denouement of rapid-fire combat and countless explosions. But, screenwriters Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt manage to keep the action grounded, so that the humanity of the characters proves more important than the visual effects. Surprisingly, when the final credits roll, you will think Oblivion is as much a love story as it is a sci-fi thriller.

There will be plenty of people who will criticize this film based on the usual Tom Cruise bias. To those folks, I say, “Give it a rest, already. If you hate the guy so much, why did you come to this movie to begin with?” Is this a perfect science fiction film? No. Is it an instant classic that sits on the shelf next to Star Wars, Blade Runner, Alien, and The Matrix? Again, no. It’s simply a solid piece of science fiction entertainment. In a film industry that has given us the likes of Skyline, Battleship, and Battle: Los Angeles, and claimed they were science fiction films, you could do a lot worse. This one gets more right than it gets wrong by a long shot, and that’s saying something.

8 out of 10


Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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