Oblivion [Blu-Ray]

Joseph Kosinski

BY Scott A. GrayPublished Jul 31, 2013

For his sophomore effort, TRON: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski utilized his newfound clout to bring his pet project to the screen. Occupying a tonal zone somewhere between an intimate philosophical sci-fi drama and a bombastic action blockbuster, Oblivion struggles to reconcile these conflicting impulses into a cohesive statement. Until about the halfway point, we're presented with an intriguing, high-concept character piece set on a majestically desolate post-exodus Earth. Jack (Tom Cruise) is a nostalgic technician left behind on a work term to keep a fleet of massive, water-siphoning energy converters in good repair. His only contact with humanity is his navigator/partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), and Sally (Melissa Leo), who videophones in from mission control — a space station orbiting the planet — to check in on the effectiveness of the team. The damaging disconnect that can occur due to conflicting ideologies in an intimate professional relationship is just one of a number of themes Kosinski explores, without fully embracing, throughout the course of the film. Since it relies on misdirection for impact, most of the heady topics at play can't be discussed without spoiling the film's many revelations. Suffice to say the nature of memory and what constitutes the self are integral to what this love story in disguise is ultimately getting at. Unfortunately, Kosinkis lets base urges get in the way of a truly thoughtful tale — once Jack discovers the first big lie of his reality, Oblivion is peppered with unnecessary bouts of (admittedly very kinetic) action that distract from the big questions being asked. While individual scenes are often completely breathtaking, taken as a whole, the movie feels unbalanced. Even so, it's hard not to appreciate the obvious love and effort that went into the production at every level; heck, even Tom Cruise gives one of his better performances. The sense of over-the-top grandeur permeating the entire project, exacerbated by M83's cosmos-tickling score, turns into flat-out prideful ego stroking in the special features. This wide-eyed back patting is at its most severe in a feature commentary track where Kosinski and Cruise form a two-person human centipede of mutual admiration. If you want to hear two men praise each other repeatedly while finding every opportunity to use the word "specificity," this is the commentary track for you. The camaraderie orgy continues in a beautifully shot, five-part "Making Of." All involved love their work and Koskinski's vision for the film, and even though the self-congratulatory atmosphere grows tiresome quickly it translates into a wealth of discussion about themes and influences, comprehensive demonstrations of the painstakingly conceived and engineered practical set pieces — they built an ostrich (i.e., flightless) version of the bubble ship — and tons of exquisite landscape footage filmed on location in Iceland. A handful of deleted scenes add nothing to the story or completely underwritten side characters and, since Kosinski really loves M83, there's an option to watch the movie with just the score as audio.

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