For me, Oblivion was one of the most anticipated summer movies. It had all the ingredients needed to be an entertainer and I didn’t go with the expectation that it will be the 2001 : A Space Odyssey of this generation or even closer in timeline, another Moon. Joseph Kosinski is man known for his computer imagery and not for his stories, which was painfully obvious in his first full length feature earlier directorial effort, TRON : Legacy. So, Oblivion was never in my mind as an intelligent material but as a film that would wow my senses, which I must say it did.
Oblivion is a story about two people left behind as watch-keepers of the earth after a war between the humans and scavengers destroys the earth and a new civilization is underway in Titan, a moon of Saturn. We are not shown any detail about a civilization. The only thing we know is that it is called Tet and some orders are being relayed to the two watch-keepers by Sally(Melissa Leo). The two watch – keepers are Victoria(Andrea Riseborough) and Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). They are lovers and liaison officers.
Jack Harper is an inquisitive man, who like heroes do in sci – fi movies, has this tendency to go out of the system’s loop. We see Jack Harper listening to Led Zeppelin(“Ramble On” plays quite beautifully), growing a plant, shooting some hoops, collecting books, reading them and doing things that might be considered adventurous and dangerous by the system. He goes that extra mile that the system doesn’t really ask for. Jack Harper is genuinely interested in the past because he doesn’t know anything because all surviving humans had to undergo a compulsory memory clean when the war got over. On the other hand, Victoria is a genuine believer in the system and follows orders to the dot. She doesn’t like any deviation, any uproar that might cause chaos. She is the obedient commander everyone loves. They are the perfect team, a team of order and adventure coming together. In another day in paradise, Sally asks Victoria in different variations the same question after each conversation as to how good does she think her team of two is and her answer’s a variation of “never better”. You see, they are perfect material as a team.
Joseph Kosinski makes the first half extremely interesting because he has only these two characters to account for and he brings a seemingly interesting plot element in the form of Olga Kurylenko whom he forgets to develop any further than the obvious that meets the eye. The plot gets even murkier and feels under-cooked as he starts introducing a few more plot elements and characters. There’s no cohesion to the events that unfold. There’s no clarity. There are a lot of questions and sadly no answers. Here’s material that could have been much better in the hands of an able screenwriter which in the hands of Joseph Kosinski finishes as a mediocre attempt.
There are characters like Malcolm Beech(Morgan Freeman), Sykes (Nikolaj Coster – Waldau ) who are not even one dimensional and that is extremely sad. If you were to describe the characters in the movie to a friend who hasn’t watched the movie and you had to describe them without talking about their appearance, you would fail miserably at describing any of the characters barring Jack Harper. When it comes to describing Victoria, you will manage to string two sentences together and when it comes to describing Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko), you’ll manage to say one sentence of note. The others? Not a sentence and that is the hallmark of poor character development and poor writing. From a very interesting first half, Oblivion almost crashes down int he second half. Some of the writing is cheesy, unintelligent and a downright hilarious attempt at trying to be intelligent with those plot twists but the writing here is much better than in Joseph Kosinski’s previous film, TRON : Leagcy, where there was no semblance of any writing involved.
As I’ve already said, Joseph Kosinski is a man known for his work with CGI and Oblivion is nothing short of a beautiful picture. The screen is filled by one beautiful image after image. Claudia Miranda is one of the best cinematographers working currently and his Oblivion is another feather in his cap. The landscape is Icelandic and the production design, though not groundbreaking, is very good. The wonderful imagery is complemented or rather outclassed by something even more magnificent and that is M83’s score for the movie. The soundtrack is one of the finest I’ve seen in a movie. This is some stunning work by Anthony Gonzalez, something he does every time he sets out to do an album as fans of his music would attest to.
Oblivion rides on the visual imagery, the brilliant soundtrack and Tom Cruise. Tom Cruise is wonderful as Jack Harper and it isn’t a taxing role for someone of his caliber. Andrea Riseborough is good as Victoria and though Olga Kurylenko acts well, there’s not much of her and there’s very little of Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster – Waldau, which is a shame
Oblivion is a movie that could have been much more than it what turned out to be and that’s because the film lacked the ambition to ask more. It raises some interesting points but never explores them and comes out looking like a mash up of other well known sci – fi movies in the second half of its run time. Joseph Kasinski can take heart from the fact that his second attempt as a director has turned out much better than his first attempt and build on from here. He has a good hold on the visual design of films and needs to concentrate more on the scripting side of the business and be more ambitious if his films need to achieve greatness.
Oblivion’s the kind of film that promises a lot in the first half and then ends up trying too much in the second without any cohesion. It is the kind of film where the material goes missing after a point and leaves you grasping in thin air, searching for all the good things you saw in the first half. I am disappointed that it had to end up as it did but I can’t say that I expected anything more from Joseph Kosinski. The fact that it turned out this well is a surprise in itself but still there’s a disappointment because it had a lot of promise. I hope Joseph Kosinski comes back stronger and better in his forthcoming films because film makers with a good handle on the visual aspects of film making are always welcome.