Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"Oblivion": great sci-fi spectacle, great music, underwhelming story concept


I’m not such a big fan of science fiction set in a post-apocalyptic world where few people are left around, or where there are practically no remnants left of the enticing trappings of the familiar modern world.  I’m much more interested in seeing “how it happened” and if anything can stop it.  That’s why the NBC series “The Event” worked a lot better for me than does “Revolution”.

But the new sci-fi action flick from Joseph Kosinski, “Oblivion”, may not need much population for its first half, with an ageless Tom Cruise Mapother IV (age 50)  as the hero.  He can go shirtless and look like a teenager right out of “Risky Business”.

The early part of the film shows an Earth destroyed by cataclysms, which had resulted when an alien race called the “Scav’s” broke up the Moon, leading to tremendous earthquakes and tsunamis on Earth.  The CGI image of the Moon in pieces is pretty effective.  But the geography of the remaining Earth is in tatters.  It may all be a desert, but the Empire State Building crest is nowhere near Yosemite.   
  
Cruise plays Jack Harper (maybe inspired by the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper), whose post-sports career consists of repairing airborne drones.  He lives in a Dubai-Burj-sized tower over the clouds with a female partner Vaca (Andrea Riseborough), who seems to enjoy her gigantic iPad-style control panels. 
Harper’s narration says that the remaining Earth residents (after “winning” the war with nukes) moved to Titan (the most interesting moon of Saturn, with its methane rain and lakes). But when he eventually comes into contact with the spaceship supposedly populated by Scavs, he finds out that they are really reprocessed humans (led by the omniscient Morgan Freeman).  Did any survivors really go to Titan?  How would they survive there?   
    
The story is complicated (there is already a long synopsis on imdb), and it seems to wander among areas of reality in a manner that mind recall the film “Inception”; but  Kosinski doesn’t succeed in making his worldview as compelling as does Christopher Nolan.  Eventually, Harper finds out he has a doppleganger, and we enter some of the ideas of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (itself filmed at least four times).  Harper has been cloned a multiplicity of times.  (Really, wouldn’t most men like to live in a clone of Bryce Harper’s body rather than their own? And which body and soul are real?  Or can a sould move among bodies?) 
  
The visuals of the Scav space ship (up in orbit somewhere) internals are interesting, and remind one of a sequence in the first “Star Trek” movie back in 1979.
  
There is a long lost wife Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and family that comes into the story, and there is redemption at the end.  Somewhere around a cabin in a Sierra-Nevada-like paradise (maybe near Tahoe),  a new family will form and civilization will bloom again.  Hooray for family values. 
  
I think a sci-fi movie where mankind is spread among several planets (maybe Mars, Europa, and Titan, and maybe even the high clouds of Venus in a balloon) and can communicate, could be interesting.  Within the Solar System, you could have Facebook available, with at most a three hour delay in posting. 
  

During the closing credits, Kosinski does show up some graphics (worked over from live shots taken in Iceland) of what Titan really might look like.  And that closing song (sung by Susamme Sundfor, composed by Anthony Gonzalez and “feat M83”) is great – in a league with “Skyfall”.  The theme has great Mahlerian leaps and would be hard to sing. 
  
  
The official site from Universal is here

I saw this Monday afternoon at Regal in Arlington, and you don’t know whether you get a large auditorium.  I saw it in a small one.  But with digital high definition, it doesn’t matter much.  But Regal always says, “Go big or go home.”

I could expand on the concept of a movie that shows "how it happens" when it doesn't end well for humanity.  I suppose that this could sound nihilistic (as in the film "Melancholia").  It seems more acceptable to audiences to present a dystopian world, post-apocalypse, rather than show what mojo it takes to make it through a global catastrophe, where only "the angels" make it. 
  
 Pictures: Mine (2012).   

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