Sunday, April 21, 2013

Yet another sci-fi flick takes us to "Oblivion," but THIS ride...

Oh, great… another Tom Cruise flick…  Have you ever noticed how some people say that with such derision?  I’ll even admit that I’ve even said it a time or two myself.  I’m not even one to hold the off-camera couch-jumping and psychology-bashing against him to the point I’d refuse to buy a ticket to a movie in which he stars, but you’ve got to admit that Tom Cruise is a bit of an over-actor.  Now, wait a second - that’s not completely meant as a knock, as there are roles where that’s appropriate, and some actors make a fine living doing it (you ever hear of Nicolas Cage…?). 

Something about all the promotional clips I’ve seen for Oblivion over the last few months have drawn me to it, though, despite seeing Jack Reacher not three months ago and having Cruise’s… zeal, for lack of a better word… still fresh in my mind.  Well, I shouldn’t say “something,” because I know what drew me to it – director Joseph Kosinski.  His first feature, the underappreciated Tron: Legacy was a visual feast, and after seeing the trailers for his follow-up, I was fairly certain this would be just as impressive.  Lemme tell ya - it’s nice to be right, folks.

The story he tells here is that some sixty years after an alien attack upon Earth, humanity has defeated the invaders, but has devastated the planet in the process.  While the survivors are supposedly being resettled on one of Saturn’s moons, Cruise’s Jack Harper and his teammate/partner/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are stationed in one of numerous work towers high above Earth’s surface as a maintenance crew, servicing the automated drones that patrol the landscape searching for and eradicating the remaining aliens.  Without going into too much detail of their memory of life before their assignment being wiped and Jack’s troubling dreams of some pre-war life he couldn’t possibly have lived, including a mysterious woman in those dreams (Olga Kurylenko) who happens to (literally) fall out of the sky during the course of the story, I’ll let you know that Jack comes to learn a lot of the things he held as truths are definitely not so.

There are a lot of familiar sci-fi elements here – a post-apocalyptic, dystopian setting; alien invasion; a central character familiar with or longing for the world as it was before – so a lot of the plot points can be seen coming a ways down the road, but that’s okay.  After all, any Western worth a toot is going to have a gunfight in it, right?  Without saying that it’s exactly like such films as Logan’s Run or Silent Running, it certainly had that same sort of feel to it.  Call me crazy, but I even felt a little Planet of the Apes vibe, too, with some of the things Jack comes to learn about the universe around him and how he reacts to his discoveries.  To his credit, Cruise keeps his sometimes-manic energy level mostly in check here, and it makes his character’s actions, predictable they may be, a lot more interesting and believable.

It’s Kosinski’s visual style that drives the film, though.  Some of the plot points that I may have been certain were about to crop up (and I was right more often than not) were still made fairly effective by how little he showed the audience leading up to them.  Sure, I knew who those dudes in the black leather really were.  Of course, that’s who that other Tech-dude checking out that downed drone was while Jack watches from behind the sand dune.  Certainly, Victoria would be at that place when Jack arrives, almost half-expecting to see her.  But, dang!  How cool to have it dropped on us like THAT!  Even something as simple as having the majority of the film take place in daylight is an effective choice, avoiding the somewhat-cliché mood of the dark, rainy, depressing post-apocalyptic pictures we’ve all seen before.

Those of us who dig sci-fi know it better than most other movie-goers – if the movie is well-made, you can very quickly forgive it being a little predictable (and even forgive it starring Tom Cruise), so with that in mind, you ought to catch Oblivion in the theater.  You may not end up loving it to the point you’d pre-order your Blu-ray as soon as you could, but you’ll be glad you saw it on the big screen instead of waiting for HBO to run it next year.