Oblivion: a glorious visual spectacle mis-marketed as science fiction future with gaping plot holes

Oblivion is a 2013 science fiction movie that stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kiriyilenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman set in a bleak desert-like post-apocalyptic earth in 2077 where humanity has been destroyed in a massive war with the aliens and the survivors have been moved to Titan, one of the moons of Jupiter for rehabilitation. Brilliant premise, great landscape to develop a gripping science fiction story of survival and human drama, you think? Yes and no. I got reasons why I thought this gripping first half petered to a meaningless droll second half where confusion, bewilderment and plot-holes ruled the screen till the end credits start rolling.

The one thing you can’t fault Tom Cruise with is his ability to entertain audience with any of his outings. Tom is not new to the Science Fiction genre in movies. Minority Report, War of the Worlds to name a few. Two albeit completely different movies in its treatment by the same director (Mr. Speilberg) So I had huge expectations with this one. Especially considering that the director, Joseph Kosinksi has already dipped his hands into such film-making already having ventured to make Tron:Legacy with Disney pictures.

I actually didn’t really care about who was at the helm of the affairs, I wanted to settle down and watch a taut sci-fi thrill ride. I had heard Oblivion described to be a harrowing twisted journey through Tom’s character Jack Harper’s mind as he discovers the truth behind how Earth got wasted. I was ready to be drawn into the stygian depths of a tortured survivor of a nuclear holocaust. Bring it on, I said.

The movie is made on an epic grand scale, a visually stunning spectacle unfolds through the first few scenes as we are introduced to a ravaged landscape, that is Earth – destroyed and being cleaned up after a massive war with alien intelligence known only as scavengers or “scavs”. Jack and his communications officer, Vic are the sole living remnants on Earth living in a lavish high-tech luxurious pad hosted high above the clouds. They are doing the ultimate clean-up ensuring that the robotic drones left to single out and destroy the remnants of scavs on earth are kept in check. The drones also ensure that the hauling of sea-water from Earth into space to power fuel-cells for the elaborate hive in the space that is their commanding office, known only as Tet continues un-interrupted.  Jack is a technician whose day job is to go out and ensure all drones are up and running (Tech-49 is his moniker) while night job is to come back and get seduced by his girlfriend/team-mate Vic. It’s funny though, as he repeatedly gets dreams about a beautiful wife from his past life.  Oh did I tell you, the survivors go through a mandatory memory wipe? Curious huh.
Things unravel pretty slowly as the first hour goes by in setting up this early premise. Things perk up when on one of Jack’s foraging missions, he encounters a crashed spaceship from where he rescues Julia, the same woman he dreams about.  (Head-slapping coincidence you say?) Things start to spin out of control from here on as Jack embarks on a journey of self-discovery, riddled with doubts and plagued with the constant threat of a lurking disaster in the background. Enough material to develop that sense of dread and crank up the tension on battlefield Earth? I would have thought yes.

Sadly the director/story ploughs straight into a muddled confusion-filled territory filled with plot-holes the size of destroyed chunks of moon. Without spoiling it for you, I would let it rest that the plot twists could leave you befuddled and scratching your head by the end. It plays out to a grand finale where Jack plays the ultimate hero, but I will let you draw that conclusion.

Coming to the acting department, Tom Cruise plays out yet another heroic attempt at saving good old earth with all his typical bravado and bluster. The only gamut of emotions that he got to play with are complete bewilderment and a strong sense of resolve. Olga was mostly a part of the lush beautiful landscape, Andrea played her role to perfection. Going through the roles of teasing team-mate, jealous lover, betrayed co-worker one by one. Morgan Freeman plays a forgettable cameo playing the stock wise guy muttering wise-cracks as usual.

 Some futuristic laser-gun type shooting action sequences, a damn cool foldaway desert bike, thrilling edge-of-the-seat aero-chases – all this notwithstanding, my biggest grouch would be that how could they make this sci-fi so boring? Agreed, it is meant to be a slow burning wick prepping for a massive explosive climax but a seasoned movie-viewer could see the end coming from far and that is a dampener. I liked the neat twist in the plot but ultimately for me, a sci-fi, even a cerebral one needs to have that extra amp in terms of futuristic action or a massive plot-twist that will leave me scrambling for the wiki explanations.  This one didn’t cut it. 

Some pros: Great visual appeal, watch it for the stunning CGI effects and the grand scale; Right from the first scene you would be hooked on to the screen marveling at stunning world building– be it the Pickachu-inspired drones or the flying station above the clouds that plays home to Jack and Victoria. Among other things, the firefly-designed plane is simply breathtaking.  Claudio Miranda’s visually enthralling photography will definitely blow your mind on IMAX.

All said and done, an attempt at cerebrally smart scifi falls short of expectations because of a lackluster script that lost its way stumbling and scraping through some hackneyed action-climax around saving Earth. It easily could have been about Jack Harper’s mental trauma but Tom Cruise has to step out of his shoes to save Earth again. Sigh. Will still give this three stars.  



Anonymous said…
Good review Sachin. The only thing is that some people might not find the payoff really interesting and it might even lead to confusion among the general movie audience.
Sachin Dev said…
Truly said, in fact I come to the same conclusion about the end playoffs for a viewer :)

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