Oblivion – (Oob·liv·i·on)
1.The state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening.
2.The state of being forgotten.
There’s a danger when borderline plagiarising your classic predecessors that you too can be forgotten.
And for much of Tom Cruise’s latest action vehicle and re-entry into sci-fi after 2005’s War of the Worlds, there is also that feeling of unconsciousness to what is happening when it quickly begins to feel blatantly imitating.
By not setting its own innovative direction Oblivion feels empty and like a series of repeated events from more golden sci-fi entries; WALL-E drones with the eye of HAL and the intent of The Terminator, broken landmarks from a whole host of post-apocalyptic ventures and others that to name, would reveal too much; the list is as long as the arm.
In defence, Oblivion wouldn’t be the first.
This deference (let’s say) makes Oblivion lack originality, so how is it all still decent?
For one thing, it does tick all the sci-fi boxes (perhaps too many) except invention, which is painfully becoming and may always have been the trickiest thing to do in Sci-fi.
It looks amazing; Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski captures that same visual glowing illumination which can be best described as cool. A sensational euphoric soundtrack too stimulates the ears in tandem; to make it all feel, superficially at least, consuming.
The imagery of strung out iconic structures across vast landscapes never gets old either, as Tom scurries and cruises around in superbly designed craft to do the day job of maintaining Earth’s drone guardians. The only thing Tom doesn’t get to ride in is a stock car, getting to buzz around in a future super-plane and a bike once more, with a remote wingman in Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) who here is more ‘Icy’ than ‘Goosy’.
Cruise absorbs enough as the other Jack (Harper), even if his plight lacks the feeling of true isolation when accompanied by an “effective team” member. Placing Jack as the only soul would have made for a far more taught and lonely affair, but may have felt even more like other sci-fi classics. The later arrival of Julia (Olga Kurylenko) fails to muster an engaging love story; both squeezes feel a little ill-fitting with Cruise.
Consistent pacing is an issue, the swift opening and Cruise’s narration telling of the last days of earth after the destruction of The Moon and an Alien invasion by ‘scavengers’ reveals too much info, too quick; a prologue visual exposition of actual events may well have felt more patient and compelling than relying on yet another voiceover. The start-up feels too eager to get to its money shots of iconic buildings decimated by time and tide (pretty big ones we’re told). When Oblivion needs to pause, it moves on too frantically, when it needs to up a gear it gets a little entrenched.
When it does shift up, a good stock of action can be had, from one man dashes across vast deserts to a neat Star Wars-esque ‘canyon-ball’ run as WALL-Es give chase. A later continuous tracking, multi-level shootout from a drone’s eye view is superb.
And the comparisons don’t end there, the attempted joining of the dots Independence Day ending gives yet another nod, but it is at least an awesome spectacle of scale, in-keeping with Oblivion’s aesthetic strengths.
With so much replication then, perhaps Oblivion is oblivious to its piracy; regrettably I suspect it’s not, but what it still certainly knows and does is entertain no matter how unoriginal, making it not wholly forgettable.