Narrative déjà vu haunts Oblivion
There’s no question that Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion is a well-crafted film, sporting a unique vision of a dystopian future that delivers on the promise the director showed with his first movie TRON: Legacy. The visuals he employs are imaginative and crisply rendered as is the flair with which he presents them. Too bad the same can’t be said for the screenplay he’s fashioned along with Michael Arndt and Karl Gajdusek. The plot is nothing more than a pastiche of elements borrowed from a myriad of well known science fiction films. This is a shame. He might have delivered a classic had the story been as innovative as it is visually.
Tom Cruise, solid as usual, is Jack, a survivor of an alien invasion that’s left the Earth as little more than a ravaged wasteland. Seems a race known as the Scavengers destroyed the moon years before, which led to meteorological turmoil. Jack has been charged with looking out for any remaining Scavs and keeping an army of drones in working order, as their purpose is to illuminate any of these aliens. He’s assisted by his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) and they have only two weeks left on their mission before they’re to be whisked away to the satellite outpost where other survivors now live. Problem is, Jack witnesses the crash-landing of an ancient spacecraft that contains a crew of hibernating humans. Upon investigation, he finds that the only survivor is Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who just happens to be his wife, the memory of whom has been almost completely wiped from his mind.
While the large leap of narrative faith required to swallow this grand coincidence broke the film’s spell for me, Kosinski and his crew ultimately provide an adequate explanation of these events, made even more palatable because of the science-fiction tropes they use. However, what became more and more troubling as the film progressed were the far too numerous allusions or outright bits of thievery from other movies that kept rearing their ugly heads. Along the way, my mind turned to Wall-E, Moon, Independence Day, and even An Affair to Remember, to name only a few of the many other works Kosinski borrows from. (An annotated version of the film when it appears on DVD would be an intriguing exercise.) While I am well aware there is a dearth of original ideas and I have no problem with a filmmaker putting a fresh spin on an old story, the number of references becomes a distraction and ultimately undercuts the film’s power.
I have purposely left out many of the twists and surprises the film unveils in its third act, where it seriously stumbles. That would be a disservice to anyone wishing to see it. Suffice it to say, the movie does, to its credit, adhere to its own logic and for those who have not seen the many other films Oblivion steals from (or is it, pay homage to?), it may prove entertaining. However, for those who’ve been around the cinematic block a time or two, you’re likely to leave with a sense of “been there, done that,” that no amount of flashy visuals will be able to obscure.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.