Lonely planet – Oblivion review

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By Simon Miraudo
April 10, 2013

Oblivion lifts liberally from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, Moon, Sunshine, WALL-E, and pretty much every other science fiction film worth a damn. By cribbing from such bona-fide greats, the final product can’t help but be at least half-decent, if missing an identity of its own. The irony? Hidden amongst the rubble of this property pillaging is a truly novel and intriguing tale. Oblivion also provides us with another wholly committed performance from the inimitable Tom Cruise. Director Joseph Kosinski – helming an adaptation of his own, unpublished graphic novel – doesn’t realise how good he has it, obscuring some genuinely interesting twists amongst tropes we’ve seen a million times before.

Astronauts Jack Harper (Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are the last two humans on a post-apocalyptic Earth, charged with “security drone maintenance” and keeping an eye on the final few alien invaders that still roam the desolate landscape. In a fortnight they’ll join the rest of civilisation in the Tet, a pyramid-like structure floating just above the planet, which has acted as a way-station ahead of mankind’s eventual relocation to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Yet, Jack is not so keen to give up on Earth, even if it is currently occupied by creepy, crawly extra-terrestrials. Though his and Victoria’s memories were wiped at the start of their mission, he keeps dreaming of an Empire State Building rendezvous with a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) that could only have taken place more than half a century ago. When that very woman, Julia Rusakova, crash-lands on Earth in a deep-sleep chamber from some lost spaceship, Jack’s latent curiosity is piqued.

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Now, all of that is the stuff we’ve seen before. The action sequences – with often only the mechanical drones acting as antagonists – are competent yet unimaginative. I’m hesitant to even mention the secret human resistance in hiding, led by Morgan Freeman‘s perpetually sunglasses-clad Malcolm Beech. His tribe seems to be made up of the underground freaky-deakies from The Matrix Reloaded, dressed as the Psychlos from Battlefield Earth. There is something special to Oblivion though; a love triangle that doesn’t quite unfurl the way you might predict.

Jack and Victoria’s commanders (represented only by a heavily-accented Melissa Leo on videophone) have housed the duo in a little nook up in the heavens. Co-workers as well as dutiful romantic companions, their equilibrium is thrown off balance by the introduction of Julia. Jack has legitimate feelings for both. Should he trust Victoria, the person he’s built a relationship with – the only person he really knows – or Julia, the person he’s told – and feels – he has a potent history with. Victoria, clearly hurt by his conflict, doesn’t turn evil in the face of the budding romance. Julia doesn’t try to wedge them apart. The resolution to this thread is not pat; the questions asked by it linger long after the credits.

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Oblivion is certainly no Solaris when it comes to haunting sci-fi love stories. And Kosinski – working from a script penned by Karl Gajdusek, and later retooled by both William Monahan and Michael Arndt – frequently makes the decision to sideline this fascinating existential exploration in favour of yet another only vaguely-exciting set piece. There are hints, however, that this could have been something more.

The pace is far less frenetic than other recent actioners, and the tone more thoughtful. With a lovely score from French outfit M83, and particularly nice performances from its central trio, the final cut of Oblivion suggests greatness was not entirely out of reach. Sadly, every moment we spend overlooking the bland wreckage of Earth – so similar to the bland wreckage seen in every other picture of this kind – or hang out with Freeman’s nomadic rebels, likely post-orgy, all we can do is recall better movies that we wish we were watching instead.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Oblivion arrives in Australian cinemas April 11, 2013.

One Response to “Lonely planet – Oblivion review”

  1. You’ve said everything I was feeling while watching the trailer Simon.

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