Oblivion in Brief

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How did Oblivion open? I was going to start this review with a quick summary of some of the images from the opening. I think they were pretty to look at, but I cannot recall what they were. I’m pretty sure Tom Cruise spoke to us over those images, filling us in on what we need to know about the future between 2017 and 2077. I think the images were of our world transformed by geological events. Yes, yes, that’s it. The Washington Monument cut down to size by a river’s delta. The skyscrapers of New York became canyons. Then New Jersey, a desert. Why did I forget these images? I’ve been in oblivion, I suppose.

Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski, is forgettable. It is neither bad nor good. It simply is. There’s nothing to condemn the movie for, and little to commend it for. The visuals are impressive and occasionally awe-inspiring. The production design is excellent with seamless visual effects. The script is thin in the extreme. The story feels fragmentary: a series of loosely connected episodes that barely coheres into a full narrative. The performances are admirable, nobody’s phoning it in. Well Morgan Freeman might be, but it’s still his mellifluous voice on the over end of the line, nobody’s complaining about that. Tom Cruise seems particularly invested. Andrea Riseborough has the toughest job, and she acquits herself nicely.

By the end of Oblivion it seems that writer-director Kosinski is throwing every single science-fiction trope (short of time travel) at the wall to see what sticks. Actually, scratch that, there is a plot point involving relativistic time travel. This movie has it all! The result is that nothing resonates. No one idea gets enough time and attention to fulfill its potential. Which is a shame because at its core, buried under CGI, action set pieces, and Tom Cruise’s confused mug, there is a very interesting concept in Oblivion: the permanence of identity and the immortality of the soul. Towards the end, in voice over, one of the characters remarks that if we have souls they are made up of the love we share with one another. It’s a shame that such a positive and fascinating idea is lost in the bombast and spectacle.

Oblivion is trapped between its aspiration to lofty, heady storytelling that sci-fi once was and the genre spectacle we’ve come to expect. Ultimately it collapses into a collection cool images without the soul it wants to be about.

-LM

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