Published Apr 18, 2013Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski's pet project is an intimate science fiction story told on a grand scale. It's an admirable use of clout, disguising a quiet, introspective drama as a flashy spectacle piece.
Aesthetically, Oblivion's show-stopping visuals echo the one thing Frances Lawrence got right in I Am Legend: the breath-taking emptiness of an abandoned planet. There's a sense of foreboding grandeur to the way Kosinski composes extremely wide shots of Tom Cruise's WALL-E-like repairman as he traverses the barren landscape of a post-war Earth, massive crumbling structures protruding from the ground around him like the fossilized remains of giant, extinct beasts.
Most of the film's narrative is effectively meted out, but there's a great deal of background history delivered in pure expository fashion by Jack (Cruise) right at the beginning. Since many of the details are reiterated in a more natural scenario later in the film, some of the information isn't necessary to share upfront.
Since it is though, here's what Kosinski really wants you to know: Earth was invaded by beings that came to be known as Scavengers. They destroyed the moon, which resulted in natural disasters around the globe that wiped out most of humanity. In retaliation, mankind practiced a little scorched-earth policy, nuking the crap out of the invaders; we "won the war, but lost the planet." Jack is part of the clean up crew, helping maintain drones that keep enormous hydro rigs running. The planet's resources are being processed and sent on to Titan, the moon of Jupiter, where the remnants of Earth's population have settled.
Living in a sky-tickling tower and mind-wiped to prevent any information from falling into the hands of the remaining Scavengers living in squalor on the surface, Jack and his assigned partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), obediently follow orders from a huge command centre orbiting the planet. With two weeks of work left before being shipped off to Titan, Jack begins to question what he's been programmed to know, spurred by vivid dreams of a woman he recognizes, but doesn't know in a time period he didn't exist in.
Though sci-fi enthusiasts will have little trouble guessing where everything is headed, Oblivion does feature some pretty neat twists and revelations. To make many obvious comparisons would be giving the game away and Kosinski's dynamic, if a little overly nostalgic (why do people in the future always find old record players and classic rock music instead of iPods loaded with Aphex Twin or M83, the latter of which provides the occasionally overly bombastic score?) examination of how memory pertains to the construction of the self is thoughtful enough that it deserves to be experienced unspoiled.
With plenty of eye-catching visuals, both natural and manmade, Star Wars-indebted action (to keep the average viewer entertained) and enough classic science philosophy brainteasers and carefully restrained performances to engage hungrier movie-going minds, Oblivion should wind up being a commercial hit with a long shelf life. (Universal)