The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"OBLIVION"

Oblivion

Oblivion would have been better titled Thelma & Louise because, like the characters in that 1991 drama, it drives itself over a cliff. The movie kicks off intriguingly, offering the promise of something new and different. Then, at roughly the halfway mark, it introduces the first of several plot twists and promptly begins to fall apart. You begin to notice that it's cribbing from half a dozen other sci-fi flicks. Actually, I'd be okay with that if it had worked, but it doesn't. Instead, Oblivion brings a lot of things into the mix that it simply can't sustain.

The story takes place in the future. Aliens have destroyed the moon, thereby causing the destruction of Earth. Everyone has been ferried off to a new habitat – a moon orbiting Saturn. The only ones allegedly still here are Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), workers left behind for security and to extract the remaining resources on the planet. Jack has dreams of a mystery woman (Olga Kurylenko) who seems to have some link to his past, although he can't remember the context in which he knew her. During a routine sweep of the area he protects, Jack discovers a downed spacecraft with one survivor: the woman from his dreams. Morgan Freeman also appears in the movie, although to tell you what function he serves would be revealing too much. Let's just say that a number of elements, including Freeman and the mystery woman, combine to make Jack question what he wants the New World to become.

I liked everything on the periphery of Oblivion. The only thing I didn't like was the actual story. Let's start with the peripheral stuff. The movie is gorgeous to look at. Director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy) provides a clean, sleek visual style. This benefits the movie in its first half, in which the ravaged Earth is contrasted with the high-tech equipment, including “bubble jets,” utilized by Jack and Victoria. There's a suitably eerie vibe in the early going because of that contrast. The musical score, from electronic artist M83, is also fantastic, nicely complimenting the futuristic setting of the film. There is additionally a really interesting performance from Andrea Riseborough. All the characters in Oblivion are woefully underdeveloped, yet she suggests a whole personality inside Victoria simply through a glance or a simple line-reading. This is an actress to keep an eye on.

Now, about that story. The essential problem with Oblivion is that it wants to address big ideas without properly laying the groundwork. As the plot progresses, more and more ambitious concepts are tossed in. However, they don't pay off to the degree that they should. Some of this is attributable to the fact that, as I said, the characters are not especially interesting, and so we don't really care about their big revelations. Jack is kind of bland – and there's a reason why – but that blandness doesn't exactly cause us to become invested in his plight. The Olga Kurylenko character fares poorly, too. She throws off a lot of melancholic expressions, and that's about it. These two people are supposed to have lives that are meaningfully intertwined. Without more reason to care about them, their big “secret” just becomes predictable. We've seen it before and there's nothing new about it here.

The other story-related issue is that the screenplay doesn't support the ideas it tosses in. There are big, big revelations in the second half. Because the movie is surprisingly stingy in providing enough foundation for them, they become somewhat confusing. Things we should understand explicitly are hazy or unfocused. To unpaint itself from a corner, Oblivion repeatedly has Morgan Freeman deliver truckloads of exposition, explaining what is supposed to be going on and what the reasons for all these twists are. Even then, it doesn't all add up. There's an old adage in movies: Show, don't tell. Oblivion does a whole lot of telling when it should be showing instead. Consequently, I alternated between thinking Wait, what was that? and noticing all the plot holes (and believe me, there are many).

Oblivion is best in its first hour, when it maintains an air of eeriness and isolation, when it focuses on strange, unexplainable things that are happening on a desolate Earth. Once it starts explaining those elements, it begins to go downhill. The visuals, special effects, music, and Andrea Riseborough performance are all enough to keep it watchable, but who wants mere watchability from a science-fiction epic? A film like this should dazzle you and fill you with wonder. Oblivion just ends up reminding you of other sci-fi pictures, all of which are more successful in their execution. You'll want to watch one of them when it's over.

( 1/2 out of four)


Oblivion is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity. The running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.


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