This is a review of the movie Oblivion (2013) I wrote as an assignment. I haven't really edited it very much, and I don't consider it a very good example of my writing. I'll post it here anyway, in case anyone might like to read my opinion of the film.

The Oblivion of Dystopia

In a desolate future after a devastating war, Earth is left in ruin, with only Tom Cruise as Jack Harper and Andrea Riseborough as Victoria Olsen left to fend off the remnants of the suspiciously humanoid aliens nicknamed the “Skavs” while massive harvesters convert the oceans to energy for humanity’s migration to Titan. Every day Victoria communicates with the mission manager “Sally” who hails from the orbiting Tetrahedron space station while Jack braves the elements to repair drones damaged while defending the harvesters from the skavs.

Victoria and Jack have an interesting love and conflict relationship with each other throughout the first act of the film. The pair have only a couple of weeks left on the planet before, as promised by the overseer of the operation “Sally” who commands from the orbiting Tetrahedron space station, they too will be exfiltrated off the dying planet. While Jack feels a clear attachment to Earth’s past, collecting books and visiting his secret abode in what appears to be the last remaining patch of pristine nature on the entire planet, Victoria wants nothing more than to leave the desolation behind her. As such she operates strictly “by the books”, and is unwilling to ask questions nor join Jack on a trip to the surface. Tom Cruise plays his character beautifully, and his disappointment at Victoria’s boring attitude is palpable. Victoria is more boring and stale, yet is played equally well by Riseborough - as well as boring can be played. The characters are thus somewhat lacking - with only three primary characters through most of the story, even good performances quickly become boring as the film progresses. Victoria’s stoniness is underscored when she ruthlessly dumpsters a flower Jack presents to her as a gift, but she also has a softer side, evidenced by the scene between her and Jack in the pool under their futuristic sky home.

The true beauty of Oblivion lies not in the interaction between the characters, but rather in the visuals. The interactions between the characters and environments are seamless and truly look and feel real. One cannot help but feel mixed fear and awe at the appearances of the drones’ overbearing presence on-screen. The sound design is spectacular, the user interfaces intuitive and elegant, created by the best designers in the industry. The use of lightboxes and panoramic projections around real sets placed into virtual environments allow most of the lighting to be done in-camera, giving a far more realistic feel than the computer-generated approach frequently used in other productions.

However, despite the beauty of the environment and the great performance from the characters, the story takes far too long to get to the point. The major event in the film that starts the true heart of the story - the landing of a current-day NASA spacecraft containing a dozen people in stasis, which later is revealed as Jack’s old ship - occurs thirty seven minutes into the picture. By this point I had grown weary and - dare I say bored - of the world of Oblivion, despite the breathtaking views and epic sequences. The story and film needed more editing to condense the action and scenes into a more rapid story development from introduction to plot.

Tom Cruise sees increasingly contiguous flashbacks of the Empire State Building from his past life, before the “memory wipe” that leaves him questioning his true origins. He rescues only one person from the de-orbited spacecraft - the woman from his flashbacks. I don’t know about other viewers, but I certainly connected the dots between the woman and Jack as his wife well before she appeared in the wreckage of the downed orbiter. Thus the filmic irony as Jack comes to the same conclusion (remember, he cannot fully recall his past and lives in a reality crafted for him by the beings that cloned him) becomes a bit tedious over time.

One of the key “rules” shown through the film is that no foreign substances may enter the dwelling - naturally, rule-bound Victoria nearly refuses to let Jack in when he returns with “the woman” in tow. Her jealousy leads her to refuse Jack and his wife entry to the dwelling when she realizes her true nature and Jack urges Victoria to abandon her sense of reality and escape with him. Furthermore, she informs Sally that they are “no longer an effective team”, a phrase repeated frequently through the film, resulting in a drone murdering Victoria, stopped short of killing Jack as well only by his wife’s quick thinking. After this sequence of events and Jack’s fight with a new clone of himself over a damaged drone, Jack finally recovers more of his memories and accepts the true reality of his own ephemeral existence and the dire circumstances the human race has been left with.

After a variety of fighting and plot elements that once again began to feel monotonous, similar to the first act, Jack finally realizes he must sacrifice himself to save the human race. He and Morgan Freeman’s character fly into the heart of the beast, confronting the HAL-esque yet mesmerising red representation of the computer, ultimately detonating a bomb to destroy the Tetrahedron and save the planet. I couldn’t help but see an incredible resemblance to numerous other endings of modern [Humanity] vs. [Aliens] stories in which the main characters must sacrifice themselves to save humanity - in Cowboys vs. Aliens, Edge of Tomorrow, for example. Of course this idea has been around far before any of these modern films, but the point still stands: the ending wasn’t particularly imaginative. And with numerous connections to stories like Planet of the Apes, I feel the story needed more inspiration to be considered unique.

In conclusion, Oblivion was an amazing film from the context of visual technology and film production in the age of increasingly spectacular and unreal environments, but suffered from a somewhat unoriginal story with numerous tropes and monotonous, in some cases boring, and stretched out unnecessary sequences that really should have been cut down to size. In the age of computer graphics, spectacular space environments and strange worlds are a dime a dozen with modern big-budget crowd pleasers, but the real challenge is creating a drastically different yet similar enough representation of the environment we know and love in an apocalyptic future. For this I appreciate the sheer skill behind the visual artists that worked on Oblivion - the environment felt like it could really be a destroyed version of the planet we call home. I wish the story had the same appeal.

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Christian Stewart


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Christian Stewart

Also known as Quantum and Paralin.

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