Epic, slick, but at times a little lost, “Oblivion” is a well-meaning sci-fi flick that takes too long and too many wrong turns to tell its tale.
Part “Matrix,” part “Total Recall,” director Joseph Kosinski’s film tells the tale of a future Earth destroyed by alien attack (aided in part by their destruction of the moon). In the very first minute of the film we’re told in a voice over that while humanity won the war (by using nukes), the planet is now a barely recognizable radioactive wasteland. The few people left are essentially mechanics for huge water-processing plants meant to help reestablish humanity on the moon Titan.
Tom Cruise’s character is plagued by strange dreams of Earth before the invasion — an Earth he never saw. These dreams are apparently brought on by the mind wipe he must go through to ensure that if captured by aliens, he can reveal no vital information. Otherwise, he seems content in fixing battle robots meant to destroy the few remaining alien stragglers and having loveless sex with his outpost partner.
So much of this film’s strategy is based on a slow reveal of a great secret. Without getting in to details, it’s a form of storytelling I’ve been been overly fond of — the flashback. While it basically works (there’s no doubt that all’s not as it should be), I can’t help but wonder what might have been if this film was told as a linear narrative.
And that’s because Cruise is never really able to emotionally attach to anything or anyone in the movie, despite a mighty effort to do so. The story is told in such a disjointed way that one spends more time trying to figure out what the mystery is as opposed to really caring what happens to the people in the story. We’re told that he loves people and special places, but never quite believe any of it.
Now, if the script were more witty in its dialogue or if the music was better, perhaps this style of filmmaking would have worked better. But the script is as plain a white bread — absolutely perfunctory.
The music is worse — while electronic band M83 (Anthony Gonzalez and Joseph Trapanese) strive for something grand and epic, it comes off a bland version of Daft Punk’s “Tron: Legacy” score. That’s ironic as Kosinski also directed that otherwise very bland film.
“Oblivion” absolutely screams out for a classical score like John Barry might have done or something as far out and passionate as Vangelis, but instead it’s as generic as you’re likely to hear in a major movie.
Put simply, there’s very little heart or soul in this film. The effects are clean, crisp and largely excellent, and the acting — while not stellar — is certainly good enough. As are the sets, costumes and the like.
In the end Kosinski seemed far too occupied with the twists of the road as opposed to why he’s on it in the first place. That coupled with bland lines and music really helps limit what could have been a much more thrilling film.
One other huge negative — there’s really only about an hour’s worth of story here (at least as Kosinski tells it), yet “Oblivion” is over two hours long, and that is the kiss of death for me.
3 “I blew-up-the-moon-in-two-of-my-movies too!” stars out of 5.