Film review: Oblivion

Last updated 11:26 16/04/2013

PROTECTING EARTH: Tom Cruise stars as Tech 49 in his latest sci fi blockbuster, Oblivion.

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I went and saw Oblivian on opening night. This is Tom Cruise's best movie since A Few Good Men (1992) and Vanilla Sky (2001). I'm a huge fan of intelligent sci-fi, so may be biased. 

This is a movie of a graphic novel by Joseph Kosinski, who also directs, brilliantly. The novel is as yet unpublished by Radical but was given out at a 2009 comics convention, delayed by art development for the film. The concept made it to film first after initial conception in the graphic novel genre, a form of backward development.

Oblivion is Prometheus meets Star Wars meets Red Planet. There is also some time travel interplay. It has a great kick at the end.

In 2077, a veteran US tech (Cruise, Jack Harper/Tech 49) and his female British station assistant (Victor), are assigned to the devastated Earth after "the war". Humans won but were forced to leave for Titan, a moon of Saturn. They protect several huge nuclear extractors, processing seawater as energy for humanity on Titan under the Nasa control of The Tet circling above them in the atmosphere, like an orbiting moon (destroyed by aliens). Jack and Vic maintain really cool drones that are mopping up enemy "alien" Scavs (scavengers) on Earth. But memories torment Tech 49.

Okay, that's all I'm going to say, as the real star of this film is the story, and that is why this film is so good. The story rocks first. 

Tom Cruise is brilliant as the lead. He doesn't overact, is less intrusive, and - as in Vanilla Sky - moves beyond clichéd handsome sex-hunk saving the world singlehandedly and getting the girl. Oblivion has restored my interest in Cruise as an actor after several recent flops (Rock of Ages). His acting is a good balance. Perhaps three divorces has grounded him.

Morgan Freeman (Breech) plays his usual wise-head sage role, but is undercooked in this movie; I would have liked more screen time for him. One of two leading ladies is Olga Kurylenko (Julia), a Ukrainian actress whom we've seen as a recent Bond girl in Quantum of Solace.  Andrea Riseborough, a British actress in her first A-list role, plays Victoria, Victor, Cruise's mission sidekick.

The design of this film is immaculate. The spacecraft are stunning, on a par with the predatory cat droid of Red Planet. Delicious. Cruise's space and ground transports are awesome.

Sci fi frequently adopts classical or Biblical allusions. The names of spacecraft often feature (Zion, Nebuchadnezzar, Prometheus, Icarus, and so on) and in Oblivion, Jack's mission craft is called Odyssey - an obvious message there. Latin prose from Roman poet Horatius' The Lay (stanza XXVII) also features strongly in this film, but no spoiler.

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Another high point is the sweeping, devastated vistas: Washington DC as a flooded delta, the tip of the Empire State Building, the tops of the Brooklyn Bridge, you get the picture. At times it feels like New Zealand but was shot in Iceland.

There's a Modernist feel to the sky station that 49 and Victor inhabit, coupled with a 1960s Mad Men chic that flavours the hi-tech Star Wars/Red Planet-esque sci-fi aesthetic.

The gadgets and armoury are gorgeous, restrained but highly designed. This is not the grunge of Alien or the pop culture of Star Wars, but something satistfyingly in-between. The comms link from Nasa control in The Tet is crinkly black and white (like the 1969 moon landings). Nice.

The story grips you immediately, and has twists and turns. Good movies move through several plot-altering episodes, and Oblivion does this in spades. So you have the satisfying sense of a five-course meal with a great dessert at the end.

Tech 49 has a huge secret that he has kept from Victor, who plays the company game and is a rigid stickler for protocol. Recurring memories, deja vu and bad dreams are a key to this movie, but no more on that.

This held me all the way. Oblivion is luscious in its cinematography, the CGI Special FX are dazzling and unobtrusive supporting actors serve the deep, satisfying, moving, and exciting story, and it resolves brilliantly. I empathised with the characters, came to hate the enemy, and enjoyed the ride at several levels.

9/10 because I wanted more development of Freeman.

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