By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tom Cruise fronted a science fiction thriller about intergalactic conflict, War of the Worlds, eight years ago. Oblivion is a virtual continuation of that train of thought.
The year is 2077 — a high-tech future, to be sure. Earth was decimated by nuclear war sixty years ago.
The people of Earth managed to defeat a race of space invaders — Scavengers, referred to as “Scavs” — who had already destroyed the moon. But as a result of the war, the planet is now an uninhabitable wasteland.
And the humans have subsequently abandoned the planet and headed off into space, to recolonize on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Cruise is Jack Harper, one of the last men -– perhaps the only man — still stationed on a floating base on evacuated Earth. He’s a fighter pilot and repairman, an astronaut of sorts — accompanied by his mission partner and lover, Victoria (played by Andrea Riseborough) — assigned to fight off any Scavs who are still around, oversee resource extraction, and monitor and fix the drones that protect the hydro-rigs that provide energy for post-apocalyptic human survivors.
Jack, isolated as he is, is haunted by the visions and dreams he has, not only of New York City and the observation deck of the Empire State Building, but of a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko).
And when a spaceship crashes, Jack recognizes her as one of the survivors.
Something else is going on here, something that might make Jack question everything he believes. Perhaps the resistance fighter played by Morgan Freeman can explain just what that might be.
The eye-popping sets, the dazzling cinematography, and the superior visual effects make Oblivion a visual feast. But, despite the intrusive, pumped-up score, the plot proves elusive and the film remains on the hollow side, leaving us hungry for more emotional involvement.
Cruise, however, is still a sturdily effective leading man, especially in what almost amounts to a one-man show and in a role that is essentially underwritten.
Co-writer, co-producer, and director Joseph Kosinski stages several satisfyingly kinetic action sequences, but he has a similar problem to that of his directorial debut, Tron: Legacy. Once again, the attention-grabbing special effects overpower the narrative, and emotional engagement is nil.
Kosinski has unmistakable visual skills, but once again character development falls outside his field of vision.
The unnecessarily humorless dystopian-future screenplay by William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael DeBruyn, based on a short story that Kosinski developed into a graphic novel, superficially explores dreams and memory, and teases us with questions that will soon be answered and secrets that will soon be revealed.
But these revelations fail to live up to the expectations created by the supposedly suspenseful buildup to them. Video game shallowness is the order of the day.
With the director seemingly selfconsciously quoting from other sci-fi flicks, it would appear that originality is in short supply. But his cribbing could also be viewed as a form of respect for his predecessors.
As for the narrative’s twists and turns, some of them so closely recall other well-known science fiction films, even mentioning the titles would be to introduce spoilers. So let’s leave it at that.
Instead, we’ll scavenge 2½ stars out of 4 for this emotionally barren but handsome and impressive sci-fi adventure. Even though we remain oblivious of the charms of its few primary characters, Oblivion leaves a lasting impression.
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