I think it is fair to say that the world of original science fiction is often disappointing, because I think it is the genre we are hardest on. We think that a film has to be somehow better than 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner together to be worth our time. Even the smallest foible justifies the label DISAPPOINTING.
There have been lots of haters on the Joseph Kosinski movie Oblivion starring Tom Cruise, out last week. They say it is just a ripoff of The Matrix or Inception or even WALL*e. I urge you to pay no mind, because Oblivion is one of the best entries of original sci-fi I've seen in a long time. It is entertaining and provocative and totally self-contained, and the version of Tom we have here is the version we like.
Oblivion tells the story of humans after an alien race has destroyed most of the earth. Mankind won, but at a terrible nuclear price. We have all gone to Titan, a moon of Saturn, to start over, leaving a few to maintain and extract what resources are left. One of these, Jack Harper (Cruise), feels a longing for the old earth he never knew, and near the end of his tour of duty makes the discovery that he isn't entirely alone.
I don't want to talk too much about plot, but I think that should ground us. There is a LOT of story in this movie. The exposition takes a half-hour. But it is all water-tight and necessary, and it doesn't lag. It absorbs you immediately. This is the science-fiction I admire: something that will take you somewhere new and explain enough of the rules for you to be able to get around. From frame one there is also room for questioning, and this propels the viewer to finish the thing out. Aliens aside, it is really a story about people and their relationships, which in a situation like this yields to examination easier than some relationship drama might.
The photography is wonderful, really very stunning. It is some of the best digital photography I've seen. Even the computer-generated stuff looks really brilliant, so kudos there. I saw some images from Kosinski's unpublished graphic novel which Oblivion is taken from, and the images on the screen are very faithful to his original vision.
There is nothing really special about any of the performances (which for Cruise I suppose might be a good thing). To be honest, he was the only qualm I had going in, which thankfully proved to be unjustified. But the characters themselves are complicated enough to forgive ordinary acting, so no demerits.
On final analysis, Oblivion isn't going to change anybody's life or introduce a new paradigm in science fiction, and it doesn't and shouldn't have to. It is a fine story told well. It leaves a little to think about after it is over, and it is entertaining to see while it is in progress. So I say, see it.
One I won't be seeing is Iron Man 3. Call me a hater if you must, but I don't see any sense in fueling a franchise I have never liked. So we'll see what comes up next.
by Chase Harrison