Oblivion or Top Gun 2

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re in sync with Joseph Kosinski’s latest science fiction flick Oblivion, you may find yourself thinking about it days after you watched it.  Who exactly was (or will be) Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), his companion Vica (Andrea Risenborough), and the new arrival Julia (played by Bond girl Olga Kurylenko?  How do you know what is real and what is not?  A science fiction film can do something entirely new, or it can mix together quintessential science fiction elements in a new way.  Last summer’s moderately well-received Oblivion, now available on Blu-ray and DVD, is the latter.  It is a good mix of many things that ultimately serve to continue to prove that Tom Cruise knows how to pick scripts that entertain.  

Oblivion is post-apocalyptic, but without the dismal brown tones of most films in that genre.  It contains typical science fiction warning signs, including the age-old “beware of technology,” but also asks the question “are you sure you want to promulgate drone technologies?”  It mixes action and sci-fi in a visually impressive way.  But it does a lot more.

Oblivion clip A

At one level Oblivion would have been marketed better as a futuristic Top Gun follow-up.  Cruise plays Jack Harper, Tech-49, a technician on the destroyed remnant of planet Earth, repairing drones that attempt to remove “Scavs” from the planet.  Who and what scavs are is important to the story.  To make these repairs he must leave his satellite home each day in an impressive double-seat, dragonfly-inspired vehicle.  This includes some great aerial dogfights with the drones, which are the best action scenes in the film.  What Harper learns on one of these missions, and the rebellious path he has already chosen to take, sets him out on an unusual quest to understand his true self.  In a non-genre film, this might be an overdone story model.  In sci-fi it takes on a different meaning.  Think Terminator meets Matrix meets Planet of the Apes (you may even see the Statue of Liberty in one brief scene), but far more subtle.  And along with the Top Gun feel of his spacecraft, you can almost hear Kenny Loggins’ “Highway to the Danger Zone” while he races off on his future motorbike.

Oblivion clip B

Yet the locations, from the Tet controllers orbiting Earth to the satellite home to the world that remains after Earth’s oblivion—are all beautiful creations, especially in contrast to the typical dirty world of alien invasion films with a similar story like Neil Blomkamp’s District 9.  Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski proves again he knows how to create a believable future setting.

Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt’s story doesn’t disappoint.  Like any slow-building sci-fi story, the audience is smart enough to know that what we’re seeing really isn’t what is happening.  Cruise’s Harper first realizes this when he dreams of a woman that he feels to be more memory than dream.  You may even ask repeatedly throughout the movie as you anticipate what in this world is going to give, where this fits into sci-fi—what is the secret that hasn’t yet been revealed?  But while you’re trying to figure out what surprises are coming, be prepared for a visual treat. 

Andrea Vica Oblivion

The home release includes only about an hour of features, including under 5 minutes of deleted scenes, but the visuals come through briliantly even on the DVD version.  Kosinski and Cruise also provide a commentary track.  Of the several sci-fi films previewed here at borg.com last year, this is definitely on the list of films you should make sure you add to your Netflix queue.

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