For the first forty-five minutes of its running time Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is a great movie. Graceful, elegant, beautiful, and far thinking. It shows the daily life of humans in a ruined world and the manner in which this is conveyed is rather special. Kosinski has a knack for showcasing evocative and clever ideas in design and how he frames a shot. He’s like Ralph McQuarrie or Douglas Chiang in the way his eye seems to exist in the sterile freedom of a conceptual sketch. In actuality Kosinski is a lot more like a Production Designer than a director. In the freeze frame there are few who can create such vivid and truly interesting science fiction moments. In action, it suffers. As was the case in Tron: Legacy. As Oblivion gets more geared towards action and science fiction formula in its second half some of the grace of the film’s first act is lost in understaged action or familiar plot twists.
Still, the movie has enough merit to warrant at least a look in the beautiful and sometimes jaw-dropping IMAX format. Seeing these post-apocalyptic vistas with Earth’s moon scattered through the night sky or a really sexy noirish nighttime swim scene nearly justifies the ticket purchase. At times it’s like a cinematic concept album albeit there’s that moment where it’s obvious that with great budget and megastars comes adherence to formula. Then the film bounces from ideas cobbled from other familiar sources whether it be the deceitful “Big Brother” element or the “Ragtag group of grizzled survivors” element or the “Cloning for profit” element or whatever else. It prevents the movie from being memorable. Four days after seeing it most of my thoughts regarding the film involve beautiful shots or beautiful women.
But it has value and for an early summer release it’s always gorgeous, oftentimes interesting, and even in its third act where you’re always a step ahead of the writer and characters it’s never dumb. Just a little short of spice.
What does the title refer to?
Things are ruined. They are totally obliterated, except the stuff that’s in perfect shape. I dunno. Maybe Oblivion was the last interesting ominous word not taken by a production at the time.
Does Tom Cruise do that thing that Tom Cruise always does?
If by that you mean work his ass off and do everything he can to make the movie work and be engaging onscreen, yes.
What are those creatures alluded to in the commercials?
You’ll be disappointed. I was.
Why does Melissa Leo have an ass awful accent in the film?
There’s sort of a way to explain it, but once again it’s still a little dodgy.
Is Joseph Kosinski going to be a major filmmaker?
If the movie makes a ton of money, yes. If not, no. He’s not a bad filmmaker. He’s actually very good for much of the stuff he does. I’d like to see him with a very strong producer behind him or possibly a visual effects hierarchy having the power to overrule him. It seems he falls in love with one idea and mines it to death. That said, if it’s genre and in IMAX I’ll watch anything he does.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Nick On… Is my new ongoing movie review column. The goal is to distill things a little and make it a little more playful and easier to digest rather than the long form. Hope you like. Please let me know what you think as there will be many of these coming and the goal always is to improve. Please share and whatnot.