In recent years, there have been a number of science-fiction movies that have reinvigorated the genre – Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and Duncan Jones’ Moon leap to mind. These (relatively) young directors created movies that were unique in story, but also in style, reminiscent of the Wachowski siblings. Another filmmaker looking to join their ranks is Joseph Kosinski. His first feature film, TRON: Legacy, was flawed but ambitious and showed off a visual style to rival his compatriot’s work. Oblivion, based on Kosinski’s own unpublished graphic novel, shares many of his debut’s characteristics, both positive and negative.
• Director: Joseph Kosinski
• Exhibition: 2D
• Rating: 12A (UK)
• Run Time: 124 min.
The movie opens by committing a cardinal sin of film-making – a needless opening explanatory voice-over [Jitterbug’s favourite!]. Putting this issue aside, we learn that the year is 2077 and the world is in ruin. Sixty years previously, an alien force attacked Earth and in the resulting war, the moon was destroyed. This caused massive global catastrophes, like tsunamis and earthquakes, which left humanity decimated. Despite winning the war in the end, the remaining population have now left to live on a moon of Jupiter. Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have been stationed on Earth for five years, tasked with maintaining the clean-up operation and destroying the remnants of the alien threat. However, when a vessel crash lands, containing a human survivor (Olga Kurylenko) that Jack is convinced he remembers, things escalate in a fashion Ron Burgundy would describe as quickly!
Unfortunately, Oblivion‘s plot is derived from various sources, with elements of the aforementioned Moon, Avatar and even Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. There is a airborne chase in the middle act that even mimics a similar scene from Kosinski’s own Legacy film. However, despite this lack of originality in the plot, these elements are still stitched together in a relatively enjoyable story. While much of it is predictable, the twist at the very end was still a pleasant surprise.
Visually, Oblivion is a treat. Kosinski succeeds in mixing beautiful, futuristic technology with the aftermath of the war, be it a crumbling football stadium or what is left of the Empire State Building. The ‘bubble ship’ which features quite heavily throughout the film is not only aesthetically pleasing but also believably functional. In fact, technology as a whole in the movie exudes this feeling – a feat not achieved since Minority Report in my opinion.
An aspect of the movie I was quite surprised at was Tom Cruise. Of late, his acting has rarely impressed. Here though, his charm and chemistry with Kurylenko raises his performance above the stiffness of his turn in Knight and Day. What was far less shocking was Riseborough’s portrayal being the best thing about the film. She has now impressed me in two movies this year, the first one being Welcome to the Punch. The weakest of the bunch is Morgan Freeman, however he is given little to work with for the most part.
If there is an aspect of the movie I was disappointed in, it was the score. One of the strongest features of TRON: Legacy was its soundtrack, created by Daft Punk. Not only was the music itself fantastic to listen to, it was used properly. The tracks used in Oblivion are equally good, unfortunately the placement and volume became distracting. One scene, in particular, exemplified this – two characters decide to ‘have hummus’ in a pool in an isolated area. However, a techno track accompanies it which completely distorts the mood it seemingly wanted to evoke.
Oblivion may tread a similar path to a number of other science-fiction films, but it does so confidently, and with a visual style that is its own. Whilst not without its flaws, Kosinski’s second feature improves on his debut. With a planned third TRON movie and a remake of Disney’s 1979 sci-fi classic The Black Hole on the horizon, my hopes are high that he can add to the “Science-Fiction Reinvigoration Project ©”.