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Oblivion – film review

April 14, 2013


A tough act to follow in a bumper sci-fi year.

Reviewed on Thursday 11th April 2013

oblivion - tom cruise running

Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Screenplay by Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan,   Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt. Based on the graphic novel Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson. Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo. Running time: 124 mins

It is the year 2077 and Earth’s major cities lay in ruin – the result of catastrophic seismic activity after the moon is obliterated in an alien attack. Huge areas of the planet have been irradiated after thermo-nuclear retaliation wiped out the alien invaders (known as Scavs) – forcing the remnants of human society off-world to resettle on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Only two humans remain on Earth, watching over gigantic floating processors which draw hydrogen from the sea in order to provide life-sustaining fuel for the off-world colony. They are Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Jack is a technician whose job it is to maintain and repair the heavily-armed robot drones which guard the hydrogen processors from attack by remaining pockets of Scavs left alive after the war. Victoria acts as Jack’s eye in the sky, watching his back from her vantage point in the couple’s floating habitat high above the clouds. With only two weeks remaining until Jack and Victoria’s mission ends (and they can join the other colonists on Titan), Jack begins to experience vivid dreams of a fantasy life he may or may not have shared with       a beautiful woman prior to the planet’s devastation. When a space craft crashes to Earth (having been lost for sixty years) – carrying the very same woman Jack has been dreaming of (Olga Kurylenko) – Jack is forced to consider the awful truth that he may not be who he thinks he is and his entire life is nothing more than a fabricated lie.

oblivion - drone -baseball park

Oblivion is only the third sci-fi movie Tom Cruise has appeared in (after Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds and Minority Report) and it is undoubtedly his best so far. It is smart-thinking, adult oriented sci-fi – a seventies-inspired dystopian view of the future which claims such ‘lonely man’ sci-fi classics as Silent Running and The Omega Man as its touchstones.

Performance-wise, Cruise has never had that much of a range and this role isn’t too big a stretch for him – although he impressively performs most of his own stunts. Up- and-coming English actress Andrea Riseborough is extremely watchable as Cruise’s love interest and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future. Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko does well in an underwritten part and Morgan Freeman makes a brief but welcome appearance as a mysterious resistance fighter – clearly channeling Morpheus from The Matrix trilogy.

oblivion drones

But it is the flying drones who steal virtually every scene they’re in.  Amusing at first, these impressively-realized creations can turn from puppy dog to full-blown snarling Rottweiler within the blink of an eye. Resembling the space pods from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with the aggressive nature and firepower of ED 209 from Robocop, they are hyper vigilant, completely on edge and dangerously unpredictable. Kosinski has done remarkably well in imbuing his drones with a degree of personality which clearly harkens back to the drones in Douglas Trumbull’s 1972 sci-fi masterpiece Silent Running. As with Trumbull’s drones; despite their non-human appearance, Kosinski’s drones are very much characters in their own right and are a joy to watch (well, from the safety of a cinema seat anyway). They are amusing and terrifying in equal measure and will probably be long remembered as iconic movie droids in years to come.

With Kosinski having a background in architectural design, it is no surprise the look   of the film is flawlessly impressive. From Jack and Victoria’s cloud base of operations (resembling a penthouse designed by Apple) to the slate grey vistas of     a half-buried New York City, every design element has a reason to exist. The cinematography by Claudio Miranda (who contentiously won the Oscar for The Life Of Pi this year, as well as lensing Tron:Legacy) is crisp and beautiful. The visual effects are seamless and spectacular. If ever there were a film which demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible, it would be this one.

oblivion - tom cruise

It has already been an impressive year for genre film music and the score for Oblivion is right up there alongside Cloud Atlas. Composed and performed by French band M83 (in collaboration with Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese), it is heart-rending and evocative and already counts among my favorite film scores.

Despite some awkwardly clunky one-liners towards the end (which would seem more at home in a big dumb Hollywood action picture and seem terribly out of place here) – it is only a minor misstep in what is an otherwise impressively solid piece of work. Perhaps the best serious sci-fi film since 2009’s MoonOblivion is gonna be one helluva tough act to follow in what is shaping up to be a bumper year for big screen sci-fi.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed in V-Max at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, April 11th 2013.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos   and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


From → film reviews

  1. I’ve been meaning to watch this for a while now but I wasn’t sure that it would be worth it to invest the time in it. But you’ve convinced me 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Great! But do try and catch it on the largest screen you can … it looks amazing!



  2. Great review, Greg. I held off reading it until I’d seen the movie myself but I reckon we’re in agreement. And yes, having seen it on an IMAX screen, I’d say definitely go supersize!

    • Thanks, Graham. I’m pleased you liked the movie as much as I did (and I love your review). I know it opens in the US this weekend – I hope it does well. 🙂

  3. I’ve skipped through most of your reviews details to avoid any spoilers, but your positive score etc has definitely convinced me to go see this. I have a few days off work ahead so should be able to find time. Then I shall read your review properly! But anyway, thanks for this- I wouldn’t have gone seen it otherwise.

    • No worries, Ian. 🙂 I hope it holds up to my enthusiastic recommendation! As Graham said in his review, it’s just so refreshing seeing an original piece of adult-oriented sci-fi on the big screen these days. I’d be real keen to hear your own take on it. 🙂

  4. Good but definitely not as good as Moon. And it’s too Tom Cruise-y. 😉

    • Moon is definitely the current bench mark – in terms of what makes a great sci-fi movie. 🙂 And I don’t think Oblivion is as Tom Cruise-y (hehe) as the previous Star Trek film was Simon Peg-y. 😉

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