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L.J. Says

Oblivion is a beautiful sci-fi masterpiece that explores the familiar yet relevant themes of identity, love, and the nature of humanity…until you think about it.

Early in the film, Jack (Tom Cruise) is low on parts to fix the various drones that somehow manage to breakdown at exactly the right moment for a new plot point to occur. So instead he uses chewing gum, which I assume is laced with electrically filtered unicorn tears, to fix one of them. And that right there is the perfect metaphor for what this movie is. It’s a story that doesn’t have the parts it needs to work, so it’s constructed out of pieces of other films and held together with duct tape and spit.

There are several times when characters, both good and bad, should do something or should have done something way sooner in order to succeed at their objective and/or prevent needless injury or worse. Why didn’t they do those things? If you work in Hollywood and your answer is, “because that would make the movie only 40 minutes long,” then you just won a new scholarship to enroll back in story school. Because that is nothing more than an excuse for not giving enough of a damn about your narrative to understand its own internal logic. (Incomplete sentence intended.)

Oblivion wants us to think it’s a sci-fi action/adventure flick with a brain. And maybe that’s an apt description since it’s believed that we only use about 10% of our brain. Then again, that particular notion tends to be espoused exclusively by people who have neither spoken to nor read anything written by scientists who study that organ. But what do scientists know anyway? Bunch of lousy dropout hippy nogoodniks if you ask me.

I won’t spoil what, I guess, amounts to the existential and emotional thesis of the film (though it’s probably not that hard to figure it out). But I am very curious to see how other people react to it. I haven’t seen or heard much discussion about the message of the film, perhaps because it doesn’t really warrant it. I will say that the kind of conclusion it draws seems both emotionally simplistic and ethically dubious. The kind of moment the film is trying to go out on only works if you had spent the entire film in the bathroom and walked back into the theater to catch the last minute and a half… Also, if you’re in the bathroom that long you should probably see a doctor.

So that’s Oblivion. It’s a film that loves to raise questions but it sure doesn’t want you to think too much about them; because the people who made it sure as hell haven’t. It’s sad when a film isn’t smart enough to know how stupid it is.

C+ (I added the plus because 10% of my brain liked the pretty visuals) P.S. Where the hell did Tom Cruise find gum?

Courtney Says

Those who’ve gotten to know me through the podcast have probably figured out that I’m pre-disposed to enjoy a film such as Oblivion. By “a film such as Oblivion” I, of course, mean a conceptual sci-fi action flick with OTT visuals and music. These components very often combine to create something I will love. It’s like my grandmother’s caramel cake recipe. It’s infamously tricky to do well, and, as such, about 30% of the time the result is amazing, mind-blowing, best-thing-you’ve-ever-eaten-in-your-life perfection. About 50% of the time, it’s good, not great. The final 20% of the time, the result is barely edible.

I expected Oblivion to fit comfortably into the middle category of “good, not great.” I was intrigued by the concept–which I previously had told L.J. looked kind of like a high-octane version of Moon (BOOM!)–and the visuals did look pretty cool from the marketing materials. So how did Oblivion shape up? Well…

Oblivion lives up to its potential in the area of visuals. This film is a feast for the eyes, with some breathtakingly beautiful and simultaneously haunting imagery. It also has a great sci-fi score; the music is reminiscent of 80’s techno sci-fi music but has a decidedly more modern feel. It’s sweeping and intense, and effectively amps up the drama.

Unfortunately, it really needed to do just that, because Oblivion fails in some really crucial ways. The story presents the audience with a world ending conflict, but somehow never manages to make the stakes feel all that high. Part of the problem is with character development; the film only bothers to do any character development for Tom Cruise’s role. Granted he’s the main protagonist and gets the vast majority of screen time, but the secondary characters really needed some more attention. Another problem is the generous amount of plot holes.

(Side Note/Call to Arms: The sci-fi genre is chock full of hole-ridden story lines, and we as fans need to stop silently allowing leaky narrative. The time has come for fan-girls and -boys to stand up and demand seaworthy plots.)

Regardless, I can think of other films with plenty of plot holes, which still manage to sell their conflict more successfully. The point I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to make is this: from my perspective, the main reason this film fails is due to shoddy performances and a couple glaringly bad decisions from the filmmakers–which I suspect were actually mandated by the studios.

I will quickly note that Tom Cruise’s performance was serviceable, though nothing special. Olga Kurylenko is a complete nonentity. They could have cast a potato to fill her role and gotten the same performance. Morgan Freeman totally phoned in his performance. The one exception to this parade of bad acting was Andrea Riseborough. Hers could almost be called a breakout performance. Also, if you plan to watch Oblivion in the future, you should pay attention to her eyes. Her pupils were extremely, painfully dilated in virtually every single scene, with one key exception. It’s seriously unsettling, but provides some great, subtle context for her character.

(Another Side Note/Call to Arms: Tom Cruise is now 50 years old, and his two leading ladies are aged 33 and 31. Age-ism in Hollywood has always been gendered, but it’s beyond time that we stop accepting as rote 20 year age differences in our films.)

Beyond the lame performances, there were also some seriously questionable filmmaking decisions, which massively harmed this film. First and foremost are the incredibly hokey, explanatory voiceovers that start and end the film. These elements are out of place in the context of the rest of the film and serve little purpose other than to explain the movie to the apparently dim-witted audience. The other unforgivable decision is the conclusion. The filmmakers almost managed to write a gripping and emotionally relevant ending, but it seems as though they chickened out. The ending we are left with completely neuters the rest of the story.

The resulting film is beautiful and sometimes fun, but uncompelling . Ultimately, Oblivion is a missed opportunity. C+


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