As anyone who has ever heard the hit singles of Colin Hay or ever had the misfortune of listening to my biological father rue about the day I was born knows, mistakes do happen. Of course, in Colin Hay’s case, it was a good thing. In Hollywood, however, a blunder can cause one’s entire career – whether established or ascending – to plummet into the hoary netherworld of unemployment or perhaps something even far worse: the making of television commercials. Sadly, in the last, oh, fifteen-years or so, Hollywood’s output has consisted of mostly cinematic boo-boos – a formulaic trait spawned by the need to have a giant, brainless ball of CGI popcorn fare every weekend.
Some of these crapfests were wisely swept under the red carpet, while others were actually praised by the idiotic masses and the suits that produced them alike as being good – another slip-up in everyday perception due to the fact that studios ultimately abandoned the concept of trying something new and different in lieu of relying on their drug addict-like dependency on brainless balls of CGI popcorn fare during the last decade-and-a-half. And so, all we seem to get it merde en masse. Giant CGI robots battling CGI monsters over CGI terrains. Lymphatic actors who promptly fall into green screen comas as soon as they clock in for their million-dollar-a-day shoots. And, what’s perhaps more annoying than anything else: the horrid realization that there truly is nothing new under the sun.
And then there’s Oblivion.
My initial reaction to the trailer for this film had me thinking “OK, so we have Tom Cruise hamming it up in a one-man show about a post-apocalyptic Earth. Oh, and there’s Morgan Freeman. Wearing goggles. In the dark. Hmm, lots of CGI and the feeling I’ve seen it all before.” And, while that assessment is an entirely accurate one to say the least, I must say I was pleasantly surprised with Oblivion. And the reason for that can only be that writer/director Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy) based the film off of his own graphic novel.
I know, right? How many times have we seen people screw up someone else’s work by completely altering, say, everything that made it a semi-holy entity in the eyes of its devoted readers and followers? Perhaps the old adage that suggests if one wants a job done properly, they should do it themselves is true. Well, it may be applied in this instance, that is – lest we forget the one and only film a certain Hal P. Warren made back in 1966.
Sure, Oblivion is anything but original. Well-read (or “well-viewed,” as the case may be) fans of classic science fiction movies will no doubt spot numerous references to those timeless motion pictures many of us grew up with here, as Kosinski incorporates imagery and pays homage to such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Silent Running, The Black Hole, and more. Even the main story itself is reminiscent of the 2009 British sci-fi flick, Moon, which most folks avoided for fear they would have to think for a change, instead of just sitting back and watching things go boom.
In the case of Oblivion, we find ourselves on the remains of a post-apocalyptic Earth, circa 2077. A fifty-year-old Tom Cruise stars as the male counterpart of a duo who have been assigned with repairing the militaristic drones that buzz about what’s left of the world, zapping the remaining hoards of the alien menace that plunged the planet into the state it’s in sixty-years prior. His sky-based partner, as played by Andrea Riseborough, is a strictly by-the-book lass – while Cruise is the curious cat. He’s even taken time over the last five years to assemble his own private paradise in the day – complete with solar panels and a turntable (and some of the same LPs I have, interestingly enough), while his nights are periodically plagued by a woman he is sure he knows, though has never met.
One day, though, his mystery woman (Olga Kurylenko) arrives in the flesh – and our hero learns that things might not be quite what they seem. In fact, a venerable shit storm could be on the horizon: something that would either save what’s left of the human race, or completely destroy it once and for all.
Like I implied earlier, Oblivion seems like a hodgepodge of mosaics from other, more intelligent motion pictures. Thankfully, Kosinski managed to retain some of that intellect for his story – which, naturally, confused those members of the general public who like to keep up with Kardashians, and who simply must have every single detail explained to them. Kosinski even went the extra mile by not using as much CGI that you might see in other, bloated productions (although the moments wherein he does employ it stick out like sore, multicolored, mutated thumbs) and getting his performers to actually act. Granted, there were a couple of moments where all attached let their guard down, such as a chase through the icy wastes of New York City (?) is not only too much like the finale of several Star Wars movies, but the stars phone it in during that scene. And Kosinski’s employment of French electronic group M83 in the assistance of scoring the film certainly didn’t hinder the flow of the flick, either.
On Blu-ray, Oblivion gets a stunning 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer that gives us the movie in as beautiful a presentation as possible. Sleek, clear, and finely-detailed, the transfer here does not disappoint. Likewise, the disc’s 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix is absolutely awesome, and a bonus track of nothing but M83’s isolated soundtrack is a real turn-on. Special features include an audio commentary with Cruise and Kosinski (which really isn’t a turn-on, as they tend to pause a lot), several featurettes on the making-of the anti-classic, and several tiny scenes that were deleted from the final print (but which are complimentary to the story itself for a chance, unlike the snippets from the cutting room floor that we usually see).
As anybody who occasionally checks out my reviews might know, it’s a rare day I check out a contemporary sci-fi/action flick and give it a good rating, kids. That said, yes: Oblivion has its share of faults. But, it still manages to click in the end- despite the fact that half of the people who saw it didn’t really get it, or found it all to be way too familiar. Ironically, these were the same people who anticipated the whole of the Transformers series. In conclusion, I wouldn’t call Oblivion a brainless ball of CGI popcorn fare. Instead, I would be more apt to refer to it as a slightly brainier tetrahedron of cinematic fare that doesn’t rely entirely on CGI, but is still fun to eat popcorn to nonetheless.