Oblivion is only the second film ever made by director Joseph Kosinski. Although, it’s extremely hard to tell. Having previously gotten his foot in the door by directing the fantastic sequel TRON: Legacy, the director had solidified himself as a top notch Science Fiction director. Before directing that film, he had created an eight page treatment for what is now Oblivion. Crafted as an ode to the director’s favorite sci-fi films, Oblivion feels like a dream project. It certainly looks like a dream. How does the film hold up to the genre flicks that it pays homage to?
Depending on who you talk to that answer may vary. I personally loved it. The film never says it’s better than what it’s homaging, but simply pulls a Super 8 and says “these films are why I exist in the first place”. Culling references from films such as Solaris, Moon, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the entire Star Wars saga, and even TRON: Legacy, it’s like playing spot the reference at times.
Oblivion tells the story of Jack (Tom Cruise) who is a drone repairman on Earth circa 2077, 60 years after a cataclysmic war raged between humans and invading aliens who destroyed the moon, causing huge tidal waves and earthquakes to completely ravage the earth’s landscape, as well as forcing the human civilization to use all of the world’s nuclear weapons in hopes of killing the invaders (called Scavs), leaving everything covered in radiation. Jack flies around on his mission to help harvest Earth’s remaining resources, fixing Drone’s that watch out for Scavs that still hang around. He is never allowed to fly outside of the Radiation zone, and lives atop a large tower stationed high above the clouds with his work-partner and girlfriend Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). One day on a routine drone repair mission, he is captured by Scavs, who reveal that things are not what they seem, and that the truth lies beyond the Radiation Zone. Add in that Jack keeps having recurring dreams about an unknown girl (Olga Kurylenko) and himself from before the war, and baby, you got yourself a stew goin’!
Right off the bat, the most striking thing about Oblivion is the film’s production design and cinematography. Director Joseph Kosinski has a background in Architecture, so he crafts these beautifully rich worlds for his films. Just look at The Grid in TRON: Legacy. Have you ever seen a cooler looking city? The way the director frames his scenes based on the architecture of the character’s surrounding are almost Kubrick-esque, and it’s only brought to life by Claudio Miranda’s gorgeous skills as a Photographer. Miranda, who just won an Oscar for his work on Life of Pi, is once again at the top of his game in Oblivion.
Featured are beautiful landscapes of the Icelandic country side, where Oblivion was filmed, that double for New York’s now ravaged landscape, and a secret lakeside cabin that Jack relaxes in, filmed in Louisiana. Rather than choose to go all James Cameron on us and film everything against a green screen, Kosinki chose to use real settings to film against, such as the previously mentioned Iceland, and it truly aids in the film’s beauty. Although the film is bathed in light and beautiful daytime scenery, the most visually striking scene in the entire movie is one of Jack and Victoria going for a night swim in their sky-loft, set to Anthony Gonzalez of M83’s magnificent score.
Overall, Oblivion is a highly enjoyable experience. The story may drag slightly towards the middle for a bit, but not long enough to lose your attention. It’s a great addition to the Sci-Fi genre, features a notably immersive surround sound experience, another great performance from Tom Cruise, and has some of the best cinematography you’re likely to see all year. The best way to experience those visuals is by seeing the film in IMAX, as Joseph Kosinski filmed Oblivion with the format in mind, opening up the aspect ratio for the entire film on IMAX screens.
Much like Joseph Kosinski’s last film, TRON:Legacy, this is a film that will more than likely divide people. It will have it’s supporters, but it will certainly also have it’s detractors. It’s absolutely worth a shot and worthy of your two hours. If for nothing else than to provide you with some astoundingly beautiful camerawork and maybe a fun game of “spot Tom Cruise’s middle tooth“.
I give Oblivion a 4 out of 5.
By Richard Pepper