Oblivion: Failure to Connect

Oblivion-2013-Poster

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.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUD_KyOujq8&w=560&h=315]