Monthly Archives: April 2013

Oblivion: Failure to Connect


Oblivion (2013) is beautiful, forgettable, and irrelevant. Don’t get me wrong, the story it is based on is somewhat elegant, however familiar it may be, but we’ll get to that later.

Tom Cruise has had a rough few years. Not that that stopped him from acting or making money.

Hence, Oblivion. Cruise has been intentionally starring in science fiction films because those films, as unimportant they may be to critics, tend to remain as legacy projects that reap long-term rewards.

In other words, though Cruise may be the most hated actor in Hollywood, Oblivion and the equally anticipated Edge of Tomorrow are the type of projects that will solidify his following amongst old and new audiences alike for decades to come. It is simply smart PR.

The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski, whose last film, Tron 2 I happened to have enjoyed a lot more than most did.

Oblivion is similarly set in what seems like distant future, a post-apocalyptic Earth abandoned by humanity.

The only remnant of humans is the maintenance crew composed of – wait for it – Jack, played by Tom Cruise, and Victoria, played by lovely Andrea Riseborough.

The two are a happy couple, living a serene life in a shiny dome set above it all, reporting back to headquarters and conducting
some minor maintenance to ensure that giant hovering sea-water “hydro-rig” conversion engines continue extracting as much water for the established human colonies somewhere far, far away.

“The survival of humanity depends on it,” explains Jack, introducing us to this Star Wars-inspired technology. Their maintenance is not so much about the giant hovering rigs, as much as it is about drone maintenance – the rigs are guarded by security drones.

The happy couple plans on leaving their sleek 70s haven as soon as the exploitation project is over to join the rest of their brethren.

Why is Earth so disheveled and useless? Well, mostly because it’s recovering from a massive alien attack on the planet. The war was won by us humans, but “remnants of the scavenger army continue to disrupt” their operation. Earth is a whore, abandoned by her children, unloved, and heavily irradiated.

Soon you learn that Jack has patterns of behavior that are a little out of ordinary. He plays baseball… of all sports in this world, that one continues to amaze even people who have never seen it. He is also kind to dogs, and he has a folding motorcycle.

The scavengers appear to increase their activity, as Jack monitors the periphery. They are dismantling drones, taking the power cells out, eventually creating a trap for Jack.

While he manages to escape the trap, stumbling on a literary volume in the process, the real conundrum awaits him after a ship crashes. Instead of alien combatants however, the survivor is a woman from his past. A woman he loves and will protect at all costs.

Nothing is what it seems, as layers of Jack’s reality start to unravel. Scavengers are not aliens, but humans, surviving underground. Irradiated zones are not really radiation zones, but perimeters guarded by other Jacks and Victorias. Aliens have actually not only devastated the Earth as we know it, but continue doing so, syphening off water as a precious resource.

The future of humanity is grim but not impossible to be saved by Jack.

Tom Cruise is commonly seen in roles of messianic protagonists, and this one is no different.

While most of the film is focused on Cruise, once Julia appears, played by Olga Kurylenko, things degrade a bit in the acting department. For one, there is no chemistry between the two, to such a degree that the romantic interlude between the two not only feels forced, but somewhat repellent.

kurylemko and cruise

The addition of Morgan Freeman as the leader of rag-tag humanity remnants is a welcome change of pace, but again, I am not certain as to whether attaching Freeman to this project adds value. In fact, I would have rather enjoyed learning more about humanity that remains, the conditions they endure, and their own stories of survival, than watching the clunky romance between Cruise and Kurylenko.

In terms of narrative and cinematography, Oblivion is very competent. The issue is that even though the story is intriguing, the lack of empathy for the characters, and poor organization between acts taking place, makes this into an unnecessarily sappy, awkward film.

Filmmakers need to be sometimes reminded what humanity is about. It is not about beautiful people, but about organics, dirt, emotion, strength. Those are the things I miss in contemporary cinematography, and Oblivion lacks them in spades.

This was an opportunity to contrast the lack of humanity found in concrete and glass, against that of rag tag survivors willing to sacrifice everything for things they care about. Instead, it is mostly a vehicle for Cruise to cement his path to immortality.

A film that succeeded in this department is Duncan Jones’ Moon with Sam Rockwell facing his own clone scenario but in a far more approachable, human way, sharing something powerful and poignant, and that something is absent in Oblivion.


2013 Hugo Awards Nominees Announced

The nominees for the 2013 Hugo Awards were announced at four conventions, via UStream, CoverItLive coverage on the Hugo Awards web site, and via Twitter at LoneStarCon 3, the 2013 Worldcon, on March 30, 2013.

Here is the exciting list:

Best Novel

– Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
– Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
– 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
– Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)
– Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)

Best Novella

– The Emperor’s Soul, Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
– After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
– “The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)
– On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
– San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats, Mira Grant (Orbit)

Best Novelette

– “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
– “In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
– “Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
– “Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire (A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)
– “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (476 nominating ballots cast)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2011 or 2012, sponsored by Dell Magazines. (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards.)

Mur Lafferty*
Stina Leicht*
Chuck Wendig*
Max Gladstone
Zen Cho*

Best Short Story

– “Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)
– “Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld, June 2012)
– “Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)

Best Graphic Story

– Saga, Volume One, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
– Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks, written by Joe Hill, illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
– Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, colors by Travis Walton (Hypernode Media)
– Grandville Bête Noire, written and illustrated by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse Comics, Jonathan Cape)
– Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Broxton and Goran Sudžuka (Vertigo)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

– The Avengers, Screenplay & Directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios, Disney, Paramount)
– The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, Directed by Peter Jackson (WingNut Films, New Line Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros)
– The Hunger Games, Screenplay by Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins, Directed by Gary Ross (Lionsgate, Color Force)
– Looper, Screenplay and Directed by Rian Johnson (FilmDistrict, EndGame Entertainment)
– The Cabin in the Woods, Screenplay by Drew Goddard & Joss Whedon; Directed by Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy, Lionsgate)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

– Game of Thrones, “Blackwater”, Written by George R.R. Martin, Directed by Neil Marshall. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)
– Doctor Who, “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Written by Steven Moffat, Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
– Fringe, “Letters of Transit”, Written by J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Akiva Goldsman, J.H.Wyman, Jeff Pinkner. Directed by Joe Chappelle (Fox)
– Doctor Who, “Asylum of the Daleks”, Written by Steven Moffat; Directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Wales)
– Doctor Who, “The Snowmen”, written by Steven Moffat; directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Wales)

Best Editor, Short Form

Stanley Schmidt
Sheila Williams
John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Jonathan Strahan

Best Editor, Long Form

Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Toni Weisskopf
Sheila Gilbert
Lou Anders
Liz Gorinsky

Best Professional Artist

John Picacio
Dan dos Santos
Julie Dillon
Chris McGrath
Vincent Chong

Best Semiprozine

– Clarkesworld, edited by Neil Clarke, Jason Heller, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker
– Lightspeed, edited by John Joseph Adams and Stefan Rudnicki
– Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Jed Hartman, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Abigail Nussbaum, Sonya Taaffe, Dave Nagdeman and Rebecca Cross
– Apex Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore and Michael Damian Thomas
– Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews

Best Fanzine

– SF Signal, edited by John DeNardo, JP Frantz, and Patrick Hester**
– The Drink Tank, edited by Chris Garcia and James Bacon
– Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Chris Garcia, Emma J. King, Helen J. Montgomery and Pete Young
– Banana Wings, edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond

Best Fancast

– SF Squeecast, Elizabeth Bear, Paul Cornell, Seanan McGuire, Lynne M. Thomas, Catherynne M. Valente (Presenters) and David McHone-Chase (Technical Producer)**
– SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, and JP Frantz
– StarShipSofa, Tony C. Smith
– The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
– Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)

Best Fan Writer

Tansy Rayner Roberts
Steven H Silver
Christopher J. Garcia
Mark Oshiro
James Bacon

Best Fan Artist

Galen Dara
Brad W. Foster
Spring Schoenhuth
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles