Tuesday, 5 May 2015
Tossing Good Ideas Into Oblivion
I've realized recently that I haven't watched a lot of science fiction in a while. It's always been one of my favorite genres and last year I found myself writing about it a lot, but I haven't touched on it much in a while. Naturally I got to thinking that I should try watching some more science fiction films, and while looking for popular options I happened to find Oblivion through HBO on Demand. I didn't have super-high expectations but I do recall finding the trailers interesting when I first saw them back in 2013. I never got a chance to see it, something not helped by the fact that it came out around the same time as the similarly-themed After Earth, which I understand was not a very good movie at all. I decided to give Oblivion a watch and see if it was anything worthwhile. I'm not the biggest Tom Cruise fan but I know he can do good sci-fi/action if Edge of Tomorrow was anything to go on. Sadly, Oblivion doesn't live up to what made Edge of Tomorrow such an interesting experience.
It is the year 2077, and there has recently been a war between humanity and an alien race. Humanity won the war, but the Earth was destroyed so now Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have to serve as a "mop-up crew" to destroy what's left of the aliens and deplete Earth's remaining resources before going to Titan (because, you know, a freezing cold moon orbiting one of the furthest planets from the sun with an atmosphere of nitrogen and methane seems like the perfect refuge for what remains of humanity). Unfortunately, it turns out there is something weird going on when Jack discovers that the "aliens" are actually humans led by a mysterious survivor named Beech (Morgan Freeman). Along the way, he also encounters his ex-wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko, who between this and Quantum of Solace really needs to find better action roles). Some stuff happens and it turns out that he's actually been working for the aliens and then Jack tries to make a stand while Victoria refuses to get involved and Julia keeps getting pushed aside.
Really, the treatment of the women here is probably the one of the biggest problems in Oblivion. Both Victoria and Julia end up being little more than a cheap love triangle when they each had potential to be interesting characters. Instead, Victoria just seemed too annoyingly stubborn. I wouldn't have minded the romance between Jack and Julia if they'd just given her more to do. Most of the time she's just following Jack around and being told to wait for him. Julia had potential to be a strong female character, and she even gets and opportunity once to get tough only to fail miserably and get saved by a male character who has almost no personality beyond being distrustful of Jack. It even got to the point where during the climax, the script seemed to deliberately keep her from playing any useful role. Unlike The Rock, I'm not sure this is any active sexism and more just bad writing, but it's still a load of wasted potential. The rest of the cast isn't all that much better.
The story itself I found also to be full of interesting ideas, but overall very weak. There is some suspense at first but after a while the twists start to become obvious, at least until the end when things just get confusing. Suddenly there's a big action scene and a bunch of people we don't know get killed but Jack has some sort of plan to thwart the alien invasion. The plan makes very little sense and ends up being a convoluted mess. Even the aliens, when they are finally encountered, don't turn out to be all that interesting. The one thing I can give the movie credit for is it does have some very good visual effects, but that's not really enough to save it.
However, even with the effects there was something weird that seemed to be going on. Oblivion was obviously influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey in many ways. That should hardly come as a surprise, seeing as the majority of contemporary science fiction borrows something or other from that film. The weird part is how it is constantly incorporated into the visuals, to the point where the "drones" seem to be heavily modeled after the pods and there is even a series of shots depicting figures in a position very suspiciously reminiscent of the "Star Child" from the end of 2001. It felt a lot like Oblivion was just trying to be 2001, which didn't make sense since it was clearly not even remotely in the same area of science fiction.
My advice? If you really want to see Tom Cruise stop an alien invasion, just watch Edge of Tomorrow. It's a far better film with interesting ideas that are actually used and it even has a strong female lead. Admittedly I've seen far worse than Oblivion, but I still wouldn't recommend it to anyone. There are some amazing visuals but that's about all you're going to get, since otherwise it's just a bunch of dull characters, some of whom have absolutely no personality, getting involved in some convoluted plot to overthrow some race of aliens that never really feel like a serious threat.