Oblivion Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenwriter(s): Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
Cast: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo Universal Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 130 Minutes
Release Date: April 19, 2013
2077: Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of the last remaining drone repairmen stationed on Earth, which was nearly destroyed by an alien invasion 60 years earlier.
As part of a massive operation to extract the planet’s remaining vital resources, Jack lives in a Skytower floating thousands of meters above post-apocalyptic New York.
He is joined by Victoria “Vika” Olsen (Andrea Riseborough), a by-the-books navigator with whom he shares a romantic interest. In his Bubbleship – a futuristic hybrid of a jet fighter and a Bell 47 helicopter – Jack works with Vika to repair downed drones and dispatch “Scavs” – the aliens who turned Earth into a wasteland.
Their mission is almost complete. In two weeks Jack and Vika will leave Earth behind forever as they travel to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. There they will join a lunar colony established by Earth’s survivors. The fateful arrival of a stranger (Olga Kurylenko), however, triggers a series of events that forces Jack to question everything he knows about the war and its aftermath.
Written and directed by Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy), Oblivion is an ambitious hodge-podge of science-fiction clichés that borrows from nearly every science-fiction film of the past 50 years – from The Planet of the Apes to Star Wars and The Road Warrior, to Independence Day and I Am Legend, there are an abundance of familiar elements that comprise Kosinski’s stylish, futuristic saga.
At one point, Jack Harper accompanies Kurylenko’s character, Julia, to the site of her downed spacecraft to retrieve the flight recorder. The two are quickly outnumbered by a band of resistance fighters led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), who tells Jack the world in which he lives isn’t what it seems.
As a low-level custodian of the planet, Jack has been told to stay clear of the radiation zones – a scenario that’s almost impossible not to relate to The Forbidden Zone from The Planet of the Apes. Of course Jack eventually travels into the radiation zone where an impossible revelation is revealed – making for a convoluted narrative that relies on surprise twists to keep the audience invested.
In 2005, five years before Joseph Kosinski directed his first feature, TRON: Legacy, the director wrote a 12-page story titled Oblivion. Kosinski met Barry Levine and Jesse Berger, co-founders of Radical Studios and together the men partnered to develop the story into a graphic novel.
The illustrated novel would become a pitch for a feature-length film. Universal Pictures came on board to develop the project with Kosinski and Peter Chernin, the veteran producer who successfully rebooted The Planet of the Apes franchise with the 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The screenplay was written by Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt.
Oblivion has a lot going for it – incredible special effects, gorgeous cinematography by Oscar-winner Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi) – but the script takes an interesting premise and turns it into a mediocre rehashing of sci-fi standards. Actually, I kind of feel the same way about Kosinski’s previous film, TRON: Legacy – a movie with amazing production design, stellar special effects, and a fantastic score wasted on unmemorable characters and an insufficient script.
Tom Cruise does a decent job with the material here, but there’s really no depth to Jack Harper – he isn’t really a character. He’s just Tom Cruise in a cool costume doing stunts and flying around in a sweet-ass Bubbleship. The characters portrayed by Riseborough and Kurylenko are underdeveloped and the actresses’ talents are misused – Vika and Julia are nothing more than motivation for Cruise’s character to do his day job and eventually unwrap the film’s central mystery.
Kosinski’s lover letter feels like it could have been titled Science-Fiction: The Video Game: The Movie. It’s nothing more than a collection of concept art and exciting visual effects; surface-level sci-fi with an emphasis on action and a complete disregard for emotion and substance. It looks gorgeous, it sounds great, but Oblivion lacks the emotion and depth needed to elevate it above being a glorified video game cut scene.