Ugh… generic big studio property

oblivionBy now, the movie title needs no introduction. Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to his 2010 film Tron: Legacy (which I really enjoyed); is a stunning and eargasmic feast for those who like expensive effects. For everybody else, overall treatment of this science fiction mystery is dull and uninspiring.

I’ll do without PC geek speak and use layman language.

The time is 2077 and decades earlier, attacks by aliens known as “Scavengers” rendered our planet uninhabitable. So human beings relocate to a space station in Titan, and send machines back here to extract whatever natural resources are left. The plot in Oblivion involves Jack (not Reacher), an engineer stationed here to repair and maintain robots that patrol the bosoms of Mother Earth. Now, the main objective of these robots (aka “drones”) is terminate any leftover “Scavs” that may threaten the human outfit.

Paired with icy communications officer and girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), Jack also provides tech support to the extraction machines. They have two more weeks before this mission completes, but massive explosions happen one day and Jack uncovers heinous truth. At the risk of spoiling everything, the events that follow are devastatingly predictable and a paste-up of elements from the following genre titles:

  1. Total Recall — memory wipe and restoration of a romantic past with flashes of cheesy nostalgia in NYC with female astronaut Julia (Olga Kurylenko)
  2. I, Robot — conspiracies leading up to a showdown with omnipotent A.I. villain, Sally (Melissa Leo)
  3. The Matrix — no prize for guessing who’s the chosen one after Jack’s encounter with guerrilla leader of the human resistance, Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman)

Now for the tangible: territorial space and mood created by DP Claudio Miranda, is reminiscent of the vastness seen in Prometheus — a disappointment considering his innovative photography in earlier project, Life of Pi. Prop and character designs also evoke traces of kinetics found in 2001 Space Odyssey and Wall-E. Toss airborne battles and cloning tragedies in the mix; essentially, Oblivion is a generic big studio property screaming sentiments about drone wars and global warming.

It has the epic looks and formalist style of something very impressive. But archetypal narrative and limited range in acting [more often seen than felt] wrecked an otherwise bona fide of a blockbuster I was led into expecting. Bit of a downer — average at best and yawn worthy at times, though not entirely intolerable.

★★★★★

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7 responses to “Ugh… generic big studio property

  1. Good review. The only thing is that some people might not find the payoff really interesting and it might even lead to confusion among the general movie audience.

    • This film is a loose adaptation of Kosinski’s unpublished comic and I can see how certain stories may work on one platform (comics) and fail on another (big screen). Real bummer.

  2. Did you find reminded you of Kubrick’s 2001? I mean, it’s all sleek and modern, but the drones with the red eye as the “face” of the malevolent AI remind me of HAL. They’re also orb-like, which reminded me of some of the designs from that movie, too. Then there’s also a space shuttle called Odyssey that figures into the story.

    Good review, by the way. I saw it recently and kinda liked it. I liked the visuals, and it delivered what I wanted from an action movie starring Tom Cruise, but it’s definitely not very original, and I can’t help but think though that a more thoughtful movie could have been made with the same story.

    • Yeah you hit the nail on the head. Orb like properties (props especially) and visual motifs (color red) instantly connect to Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey. Even the shuttle was named “Odyssey”. For these reasons, it felt like Oblivion was riding on the originality of genre titles rather than something unique to itself. In fact, to stress the visual effects, some movements from the captured drone were actually clumsy and clunky.

      If Kosinski’s comics mature with a solid fanbase, maybe in time they’ll come up with something more organic.

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