Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell, Abigail Lowe, Isabelle Lowe, David Madison
Written by: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
Language: English
Running Time: 126
Date: 19/04/2013
IMDB

Oblivion (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Half Moon

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion starts badly, looking for all the world like one of those sci-fi movies that are merely parables for the horrors of war. Then it gets good for a while, and it's intriguing... it seems to be going someplace. But the more it moves along, the more it starts to resemble other movies. It calls up fleeting images from things like Star Wars, The Road Warrior, and Top Gun, but more importantly, it borrows at least half the plot from Duncan Jones's amazing, underrated Moon (2009). Worse, it takes all the elements that made Moon work and removes them, so that they no longer work in Oblivion.

Sadly, it's hard to explain any of this without giving away crucial plot twists, both for Moon and for Oblivion. But suffice to say that whereas the characters have a good reason to exist in Moon, they don't in Oblivion.

Regardless, here they are, Jack and Victoria, played by Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough. In the future, Earth has been left in ruins when an evil race of invaders destroyed the moon; mankind fought off the invaders, but rendered the earth uninhabitable. Now people are being evacuated to Titan, a moon of Saturn. While awaiting departure, they board a weird spacecraft called the "Tet," hovering just outside of Earth's atmosphere. It's Jack and Victoria's job to oversee the operations of huge machines that are sucking up Earth's oceans for energy. Probe robots protect the energy machines, and Jack and Victoria protect the probes.

Jack and Victoria's shift is supposedly up in two weeks, but Jack doesn't really want to leave. Something about Earth entices him. Plus he keeps having dreams about a beautiful woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), and there are fresh attacks all the time by a mysterious band of new invaders. Everything changes when Julia actually shows up, in a hypersleep chamber, crash-landed from some unknown spaceship.

That's as far as I can go for now, although a quick glance at the credits shows that Morgan Freeman is in the movie, too, and he's not narrating.

A good science fiction tale springs its secrets on you, and they explain everything that happened before. It comes together with a satisfying click. With Oblivion, new questions keep coming up and they're not answered. Worse, even the slightest, simplest bits of logic are blatantly ignored, such as the ones surrounding a flight recorder that will explain everything.

Of course, many movies can be ambiguous and leave things hanging on purpose, but that's not what Oblivion is trying to do; it's trying to surprise us and then wrap things up, Hollywood-style. It fails. Also on its agenda are a few fight and chase scenes, some explosions, a love scene, a romance, and a happy ending. All of these things detract from the central story.

The director is Joseph Kosinski, who did roughly the same thing with Tron: Legacy (2010), conjuring a bunch of high-tech special effects with very little to support their existence. I'm afraid he's one of those directors who will keep working regularly for the next decade, spending untold millions on soulless projects while directors with actual talent go unemployed.

The only one that comes out unscathed is Tom Cruise. Doing what he can with the material he's given, he once again proves why he's a major movie star; he earns our sympathy in a movie that doesn't deserve it.

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