by Michael Walters
The Cantankerous Critic
“Oblivion” is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller with a few tricks up its sleeve. Unfortunately those tricks have all been stolen from other much better movies.
Tom Cruise plays one of the last two people on what’s left of Earth, after an alien invasion. Humanity won the war, but the carnage left the planet so barren and polluted the human race had to ship out for a new better life on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Cruise is the part of the cleanup crew flying around fixing the droids that monitor the landscape and swatting away the last remnants of the alien invaders from humanity’s massive hydro-reactors, which convert saltwater into fuel for the ships.
But Cruise is haunted by a nagging feeling that all may not be as it seems. He’s awoken by dreams of a place he couldn’t have possibly seen, and memories of a woman who may or may not exist. And the behavior of the aliens seems odd, too.
After he’s lured into an underground cave which looks like it was once a mansion of some kind, he becomes convinced the aliens (known as scabs) aren’t trying to kill him. They’re trying to catch him. But for what purpose? I can’t really say much more about the plot without spoiling it for those audiences that do want to be surprised.
The film looks great, with Iceland doing a suitable impression of a barren Earth. The special effects are solid. Tom Cruise gets some cool looking futuristic gadgets to play with. There’s an underwater sex scene. And the film at least attempts to tackle some big questions, instead of being a mindless explosion extravaganza.
So why did I find myself yawning? Part of it has to do with the pace of the movie which is slow, and plodding. The movie has surprisingly few characters for a blockbuster of this type. Looking at the cast credits, it looked more like the cast of a small two-act play, rather than a major motion picture.
That only puts the burden more on Cruise. He knows how to carry a film, and he has to, since there are so few other people on screen. However, Cruise’s character, for all his intensity, doesn’t have much of a personality. And for long stretches, he doesn’t do much of anything, except maybe fly over the remnants of the Empire State Building, and build a cabin complete with a turntable in a remote green patch of Earth.
At times, I felt like the only thing keeping me awake was the incessant horns blaring on the soundtrack.
As for those plot twists, some have been imported seemingly wholesale from influential sci-fi films over the past 30 years, from Blade Runner to The Matrix. But the script telegraphs its surprises in such a way that it robs its big reveals of their oomph. So the experience isn’t one of discovery, its one of inevitability.
That said, “Oblivion” isn’t a terrible film by any means. The filmmakers may not have much originality, but they do know this: if you’re going to steal, at least steal from the best.