‘Oblivion’ a sci-fi story not worth remembering

Photo via impawards.com
Photo via impawards.com

The year’s first big blockbuster, “Oblivion,” is the first sci-fi adventure for Tom Cruise since 2005’s “War of the Worlds.” Like his character in his latest effort, Cruise has apparently forgotten that storyline is what keeps science fiction interesting.

“Oblivion” is set in the year 2077, six decades after the planet was obliterated by an alien race, known as the “Scavengers.” The Scavs destroyed the moon, causing the Earth to plunge into total natural disaster apocalypse and making it almost unidentifiable, save for the top of the Empire State Building and a few other landmarks poking out of the ground.

Cruise plays Jack Harper, one of the last men on the nuclear-annihilated Earth. Stationed as a militant repairman, Jack protects and repairs powerful, cue ball-like drones overseeing a massive hydroelectric energy project necessary for the survival of the human race, all while making sure the leftover Scavengers do not interfere.

Roaming around a barren Earth day would be a lonesome job, but lucky for Jack, he has a companion in Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his supervisor and love interest who oversees his daily operations from the glassy confines of their ultra-sleek “Jetsons” pad in the sky. Both have had their memories wiped clean before taking residence on Earth – red flag number one that something fishy is going on.

Although his memory was erased, Jack has flickers of his pre-apocalyptic past with a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko, “Quantum of Solace”) on top of the Empire State Building. These visions are supplemented by Jack’s fascination with pre-war Earth, and his curiosity is so strong that he collects old items and stores them in an isolated lakehouse. Apparently, total nuclear annihilation missed Jack’s forested paradise.

Jack finally has the chance to come face to face with the mysterious woman when a jettisoned cryo-pod crash-lands on Earth, and the only survivor is Julia, the girl of his literal dreams. As it turns out, Julia is the key to unlocking the secrets of Jack’s past. She arrives only after Jack grapples with the question of why humans, if they had won the war, decided to abandon their native planet for an uncertain future on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Jack is no dunce, and his questioning is another red flag.

Too often, sci-fi movie trailers reveal far too much of the plot, rendering the movie’s story useless. Although the trailer of “Oblivion” did reveal a good amount, there were still enough twists and turns in the movie to be satisfied. This is standard science fiction fare, however, and the obvious red flags along the way did little to help their cause.

To make matters worse, director Joseph Kosinski based “Oblivion” on an unpublished comic book that pays homage to science fiction films of the 1970s. It’s clear that too much homage was paid. The film suffers from recycled plot devices made worse by a slow and overly talkative script, beginning with a lengthy voiceover from Cruise.

Though the film’s trailer prominently displays Morgan Freeman as the leader of the “Scavengers,”  his part is minimal. The promotion for the movie greatly oversells his on-screen time, which is a disappointment. Kosinski should have used his star-power to enhance the storyline.

Although the plot is stale, the film does have a few saving graces. “Oblivion” is visually stunning, and the post-apocalyptic Earth is as beautiful as can be, thanks to cinematographer Claudio Miranda, who recently won an Oscar for his work on “Life of Pi.”

The soundtrack is futuristic and spacey, courtesy of the French electronic band M83, who became known for its hit “Midnight City.” The group composed the entire score of the film. The music works well with the visuals, and “Oblivion” is a film to experience with all senses, reminiscent of Kosinski’s previous directorial endeavor, “Tron: Legacy.” Perhaps the third time really is the charm, and his next feature will masterfully combine visuals, plot and score.

The action sequences are fairly exciting, and while nothing new is brought to the table, giving Cruise free reign over futuristic rifles and a killer aircraft makes for fast-paced and well-executed action. The futuristic weaponry, along with the ominous drones and “Jetsons” pad, feel real and not over-the-top, an important element in sci-fi films to keep it relatable in an out-of-this-world universe.

The tagline of the film states that Earth is a memory worth fighting for. After such a disappointing storyline, though, it is debatable whether “Oblivion” is worth remembering.