I have seen the future and it looks like about half a dozen other sci-fi films poured into a cauldron and left to smelt. Influences are one thing, but “Oblivion” is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster, its plot composed almost entirely of bits hacked off from other well-known films.
Tom Cruise plays, well, Tom Cruise basically, but this time he’s some top-gun bubble-craft pilot/blue-collar mechanic named Jack who lives on an orbital platform above a depopulated Earth in the year 2077. His job is to repair the drones that protect the massive space-tankers that are sucking off all of Earth’s remaining water to bring it to wherever it is that the rest of humanity has relocated. He also has to watch out for the darkly scurrying alien Scavs, who destroyed Earth in a war and are still plotting down on the barren and irradiated planet.
The rips from other films come fast and furious. Anyone who’s seen “12 Monkeys” will instantly recognise Jack’s ghostly dreams of a woman he seems to have known from a different time and place. Similarly, “Wall-E” fans will feel a strong sense of deja vu as Jack visits his little shack down on Earth, the last man standing amid his collection of pop-cultural artefacts. Jack’s journeys through a panoply of destroyed/abandoned American landmarks invariably recall the “Planet of the Apes” series.
Riffs from “The Moon,” “Total Recall” and “Cowboys & Aliens” are equally obvious, though I can’t spell them out without spoilers. By the time Morgan Freeman turns up in little round “Matrix”-Morpheus sunglasses to tell Jack that everything he knows is wrong, the stench of sci-fi films past is inescapable.
It’s kind of a shame that writer/director Joseph Kosinski’s screeenplay is so derivative, because it starts off seeming so open, before treading familiar paths. For younger viewers with less knowledge of sci-fi cinema’s back catalog, this should be an enjoyable enough ride, though.
“Oblivion” does boast some striking art and set design, from the gleaming spherical drones that look like weaponized Steve Jobs products to the pristine white Skytower platforms floating in the clouds. Of course the same was true of Kosinski’s last film, “Tron: Legacy”: great visuals, weak script. The Vangelis-inflected electronic soundtrack by M83 is a welcome surprise, and following up on Daft Punk’s great score for “Tron: Legacy” shows Kosinski to be more open-minded musically than most of his contemporaries, who are still stuck in the John Williams past when it comes to expressing the future musically.
Kosinski’s leading man is on Cruise-control here, pretty much trying to be every-dude with his Yankees cap, bobblehead doll on the dashboard and collection of classic rock albums. Former model Olga Kurylenko is one of Hollywood’s more exotic beauties, and does a serviceable job as the dazed survivor of a shipwreck on Earth. Freeman was a bad piece of casting, though: Much of the film’s suspense lies in wondering whether Jack can trust this mysterious guru figure who awakens him to “the truth,” but since it’s good ol’ Morgan, you never doubt his intentions for a minute. Take the red pill, I guess.
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