CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OBLIVION (2013)
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A spaceship high above Earth in the future. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES sit at the controls.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Shouldn’t one of us be down on the planet’s surface fixing drones?
L.L. SOARES: No. We both should be up here reviewing today’s movie.
MA: Good point. Shall I begin?
LS: Sure. I’m going to check out the swimming pool out back, to see if there are any nude female assistants swimming about. That was one of the highlights of OBLIVION!
MA: No, you’re going to sit right there and review today’s movie with me. Although I do agree with you, about that scene being a highlight.
LS: As usual, you’re no fun.
MA: Anyway, today we’re reviewing OBLIVION (2013) the new science fiction movie starring Tom Cruise.
OBLIVION isn’t exactly the most emotional movie you’ll ever see. Its interior sets are dominated by one color, white. As such, the film presents an almost sterile environment. Likewise, it evokes about as much emotion as a sterilized white room.
In the future, Earth has been attacked by aliens. Humanity won the war, but lost the planet, because in order to defeat the aliens, we used nuclear weapons, in effect making Earth uninhabitable for life any longer. Now, in 2070, humans live on Titan, Saturn’s moon.
LS: I didn’t realize Titan had an Earth-like atmosphere. Why the hell did they choose that as the new home for mankind?
MA: Beats me. Plus it’s not exactly in our backyard. The trip would take several years. Can you imagine the kids in the back seat? Are we there yet?
Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) remains on Earth, working with a young woman named Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Their job is to repair the drones that are defending the planet against the remaining aliens, known as “Scavs.” They report to their commander Sally (Melissa Leo) who’s stationed in the space station above them known as the Tet.
(C3PO and R2D2 from the STAR WARS films, enter the cockpit)
CP30: Excuse me, gentlemen, did you say “droids?”
LS: No, he said “drones.”
C3P0: See R2D2, I told you you were mistaken.
(R2D2 beeps and whistles)
MA: What did he say?
C3P0: He said that OBLIVION sounds rather dumb. And I must say, its lack of droids is quite suspicious.
LS: I agree.
(R2D2 beeps again.)
MA: Now what did he say?
C3PO: He said he’s bored and he can’t wait to piss off more Stormtroopers in the upcoming STAR WARS movie.
(R2D2 beeps some more.)
C3PO: No, R2, I don’t think these gentlemen know if there are any Stormtroopers in the area.
MA: No, but there’s some drones down there on the planet you two could annoy.
C3PO: Oh, splendid! Let’s go, R2. (The two droids exit.)
MA: Back to our review.
All is well, except that Jack is haunted by images, perhaps memories, of a mysterious young woman whose identity he can’t remember. Later, he finds this woman asleep in a kind of metallic coffin which has arrived on Earth from a spaceship called the Odyssey. He awakens the woman, and she reveals to him that she’s his wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko). She tells him that his memory has been erased, opening the door for some dramatic revelations and plot twists.
Jack is later captured by some remaining humans, who are living underground. Needless to say, they aren’t supposed to be there. Their leader, Beech (Morgan Freeman) asks for Jack’s help in defeating the true enemies of Earth. Jack then has to decide who to believe, who to fight for, and where the truth lies, but since he’s being played by Tom Cruise, there’s little doubt whether or not Jack will make the right decisions.
I can’t say that I really liked OBLIVION. I never really got into its story, which wasn’t all that interesting. I also wasn’t crazy about the characters..
The “aliens” are boring. We never really see them. The real menace in this one is Sally, and as played by Melissa Leo, she’s nothing more than a face and a stern voice on a video monitor.
LS: Yeah, that was major problem with OBLIVION. I thought it looked great, with the flying machines and drones. But to what end? I didn’t really care about these characters all that much. There are a couple of scenes that show us Jack’s humanity, the most obvious one being scenes at a cabin he made in the mountains, by a lake. It’s his one sanctuary from the world around him, and it’s a potent image. But otherwise, there’s not a lot about OBLIVION that has any emotional value.
(The robot from the 1960s series LOST IN SPACE enters the cockpit)
ROBOT: Warning! Warning! We are entering the planet’s atmosphere!
MA: I thought you turned off the engines.
LS: You didn’t tell me to do that. It’s been on autopilot.
ROBOT: Warning! We have entered Earth’s atmosphere.
LS: So what? We have to land sometime.
ROBOT: This does not compute.
LS: Be quiet you bumbling bucket of bolts!
MA: You’re starting to sound an awful lot like Dr. Smith.
LS: Why thank you!
ROBOT: Humans. I will never understand them.
(ROBOT leaves the cockpit)
MA: Are you sure entering landing on Earth is a good idea?
LS: Why not? (looks out the window) Ah, home sweet home.
MA: Ahem. Time to get back to our review.
Tom Cruise is fine as Jack, but he was better as Jack Reacher in JACK REACHER (2012), as that character was more fully developed. Jack in this movie is just your average standard hero. I didn’t buy into his mission on Earth, nor was I all that intrigued by his love story with Julia.
LS: Oh yeah, JACK REACHER was a much better movie, and probably made at a fraction of the budget. No fancy special effects in that one.
MA: I did like Andrea Riseborough as Victoria. There was something very sexy about her in a quirky, offbeat way, but she’s not the main character in this one. That would be Olga Kurylenko as Julia, who I didn’t enjoy as much.
LS: I liked both women, but I agree that Victoria gets short shrift. My main problem is that Jack and Victoria seem to have real feelings for each other, but when Julia shows up, Jack pretty forgets all about his feelings for Vicky.
MA: I definitely agree with that point. I really had the impression that Jack had genuine feelings towards Victoria, and so I agree with you it played out as strange that he simply forgets about her. I expected some angst on his part, some tension, perhaps a love triangle, but as I said before, this movie’s too sterile for that.
LS: Yeah, a love triangle would have been more realistic, and would have provided a bit of drama to the stale proceedings here. Sure, Victoria is uptight, is afraid to break the rules, and is an all-around stick in the mud a lot of the time-hey, she sounds a lot like Michael Arruda!
MA: Hey! I resemble that remark!
LS: —but we’re led to believe they have a strong bond, and it’s not believable that Jack would be able to just sever that without a second thought. It would have made more sense if he had a real conflict about which woman he wanted. Instead, he doesn’t seem to have any trouble making a choice when this new woman shows up. Sure, he has had dreams about her before he meets her. But I just didn’t like how Victoria was tossed aside so easily.
MA: I agree.
LS: By the way, Olga Kurylenko who plays Julia was previously in movies like SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012), Neil Marshall’s underrated CENTURION (2010) and was even a Bond Girl—she was Camille in 2008’s QUANTAM OF SOLACE.
MA: Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman. He’s fine, but he doesn’t do anything here we haven’t seen him do before.
LS: I’m not sure what I feel about Morgan Freeman at this point. When there’s the big scene where he reveals himself for the first time, I felt it was almost—laughable. Like he was doing a parody of himself. But the thing is, his role in OBLIVION isn’t funny. Maybe he’s just played so many roles like this that I just can’t take him seriously anymore. He can’t be a convincing character—you just think of him as “Hey, it’s Morgan Freeman.”
MA: Maybe he should just stick to narrating.
LS: I liked the women in this one, and I liked Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Sykes, another leader of the human rebels on earth (kind of Morgan Freeman’s right hand man). Most people may recognize Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in the great HBO series GAME OF THRONES. But while I liked seeing him in the OBLIVION, he really isn’t given very much to do.
MA: I thought the visuals and special effects were just okay. They didn’t wow me. Neither did any of the battle scenes. I thought it was pretty ho hum throughout, and in this day and age, where movies can look so good visually, I thought OBLIVION was just average. There weren’t any memorable images to go along with this one either. The movie had its chances, with various images of Earth after the nuclear holocaust, but few if any of these images resonated with me. There’s only so many times you can see the Washington Monument or the Empire State Building looking beaten and dilapidated and feel something, especially when these scenes don’t look all that real.
LS: I thought the machines and high-tech contraptions looks convincing enough. I thought they were all well done. But I didn’t felt “wowed” either. There’s just something about OBLIVION that wasn’t very exciting. And you’re right about the battle scenes. They were kind of boring. The first time we see Jack confront a drone, it’s kind of interesting. But after a while, they just become tedious.
MA: The screenplay by director Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt did little for me as well. It’s based on a comic book by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson.
LS: It’s called a graphic novel.
MA: Comic book, graphic novel. What’s the difference?
LS (shrugs): Beats me.
MA: I thought the story was confusing at times, but worse than that, it didn’t win me over emotionally. I cared little about these folks, mostly because they themselves didn’t seem to care much about what was going on. I also didn’t find that Cruise and Kurylenko shared much chemistry, which didn’t help the love story. I thought Cruise shared more onscreen chemistry with Riseborough, but they’re not the main love focus here.
LS: I didn’t find the story very satisfying, either. And while I am not as down on Kurylenko as you, I do think Cruise had better chemistry with Riseborough, too. I just found OBLIVION to be kind of bland and sanitized and despite its various plot twists, it seemed like something we had seen before.
MA: Director Kosinski also directed TRON: LEGACY (2010), and I would say both films score about the same in the quality department. Neither one wowed me.
LS: I didn’t see TRON-LEGACY, so I don’t know if I’d agree with you. But I’ll take your word for it.
One thing that did interest me a little was the movie’s soundtrack. Kosinski has been making some interesting music choices in his films. In TRON: LEGACY, the soundtrack was done by French electronic group Daft Punk. This time around, OBLIVION was scored by another band I like, M83. Truth be told, however, I wasn’t really all that aware of the soundtrack while I was watching OBLIVION, maybe because I was kind of bored a lot of the time. I am curious to see if I listened to the soundtrack without the visuals if I would have enjoyed it more.
MA: OBLIVION is also nowhere near as ambitious in theme or scope as last year’s science fiction hit PROMETHEUS (2012) but the results are about the same, mixed.
LS: I don’t know. I thought PROMETHEUS was a little disappointing, but I thought it was much better than OBLIVION.
MA: I feel a chill in here, and that’s because I never warmed up to OBLIVION. It was cold and emotionally detached throughout.
I give it two knives.
LS: I’m pretty much in agreement with you on all counts here. I give OBLIVION two knives as well. I thought it looked great, but it had no soul. Nothing meaty to grab onto.
(The DROIDS and ROBOT have returned)
C3P0: Excuse me, gentlemen, but how do you get off this ship?
(R2D2 beeps and whistles.)
C3PO (pointing out window): Look, there are those pesky drones come to attack us.
MA: I told you it was a bad idea to land here. Didn’t you learn anything from OBLIVION?
LIS ROBOT: Warning! Warning!
LS: So long, fellas.
(LS pushes a button that ejects the section of the craft where MA and LS are)
MA: I hope they know how to fly the ship without us.
(There is the sound of drone fire and an enormous explosion)
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives OBLIVION ~ two knives!
LL Soares gives OBLIVION ~two knives, as well.