Oblivion (2013)

(Video on Demand, September 2013) For all of the nice things I have to say about Oblivion, there’s something just… off in the way it comes together.  The first few minutes don’t quite establish the required suspension of disbelief required for it to work smoothly: The visuals it presents don’t make a lot of sense and the pandering to modern lowest-denominator audiences seems blatant (let’s see: Yankees cap, Football stadium, dog, motorcycle and a cabin in the woods.  Yup, just one regular guy, no wacky sci-fi to see here…)  For viewers used to prose science-fiction Oblivion seems to pivot entirely on a familiar cognitive breakthrough structure, and the way it self-importantly reveals its secrets is a bit annoying, as if it expected audience’s minds to be blown apart by fairly obvious reveals.  The plot doesn’t quite seem to hold together the longer you look at it, and the visuals it shows (combining a ruined New York with what looks like epochal landscape alteration) are so nonsensical as to make anyone’s head hurt.  But let’s focus on the positive for a moment: It’s a science-fiction film that’s not explicitly based on existing intellectual properties, it features relatively original imagery (the “house in the clouds” is particularly nice) and it has the willingness to combine familiar tropes into a somewhat cohesive whole.  For writer/director Joseph Kosinski, it’s certainly a step up from the pretty-but-vapid Tron: Legacy.  Tom Cruise is overbearingly Tom Cruise-ish in the lead role (see “Yankees cap, football, motorcycle” above), but the supporting performances by Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough and Olga Kurylenko bring a bit of balance in the film.  While there’s little that’s objectionably wrong in Oblivion, it doesn’t click either, and that’s a more crucial problem in SF movies than in other genres due to the required suspension of disbelief.  While it certainly looks nice and feels more original than yet another sequel of a comic-book movie adaptation, it doesn’t seem to have enough heft to it, and given the nature of the film’s revelation it’s hard imagining watching this a second time for fun.

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