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Oblivion ••

MV5BMTQwMDY0MTA4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzI3MDgxOQ@@._V1_SX214_Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Screenplay: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt
Science Fiction/Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 126 minutes

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Scott, we just saw Oblivion. I think the writers were Oblivious to what makes a good story.



(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

What we have here is all-too familiar. A movie with so much potential but so little delivery on that potential.


Oblivion is Tom Cruise’s latest offering. He stars as Jack Harper, a tech on a futuristic Earth. The Earth has been been in a war with an alien race – the Scavengers. We won the battle, but the Earth was decimated. So, all human life has been transplanted on Saturn’s moon Titan. Meanwhile, Jack and his girlfriend are part of a mop-up crew that is responsible for siphoning off the Earth’s oceans and ridding the planet of remaining “Scavs.”


So far so good. But all is not what it seems. Jack discovers that a Scavs’ beacon has sent down a 60-year-old satellite containing several humans frozen in stasis. Only one of these humans, a woman, survives and triggers some older, hidden memories in Jack. We don’t want to reveal what happens next, but let’s just say that the arrival of this woman turns Jack’s world entirely upside-down, and he spends much of the movie diving for cover from weapons fired at him from futuristic drones.


And this is the beginning of the problem with Oblivion – we had to wait for half the movie before this important plot point. Getting there was interminable. We had to wade through Jack getting abducted and escaping with no particular effect on the plot.

The strange thing about this movie is that the CGI is flawless. Someone spent a lot of money on the production. But the script is a mess. I found myself asking how this movie ever got made. Morgan Freeman makes an appearance but cannot save this movie. It is long, boring and I didn’t care a whit about anyone in it.


I’m not quite as harsh in my assessment, but I do agree with you that the movie was long on impressive visual effects and short on character development. Filmmakers have got it in their heads that the only thing audiences want is stunning visuals, explosions, and chase scenes. It’s true, I enjoyed those elements and absolutely loved the futuristic technologies, especially Jack’s supremely cool little spaceship that zips around the atmosphere with the grace of an insect-like ballerina.

We recently reviewed an old classic, Groundhog Day, which owed its emotional punch to the striking transformation of the lead character. Many movies today — especially Tom Cruise movies — are designed to be pleasing to the eye but atrophying to the brain. Characters don’t develop, they just react to bullets. It’s discouraging in a movie like this because there is so much potential for the story to rise to the level of the CGI.


As a hero, Jack is pretty bland. His memory has been wiped which makes character development difficult. He is good at running around, shooting things up and doesn’t look bad in the shower. But since he comes from nowhere he has nowhere to go. He isn’t a bad guy, so he can’t get better. He’s just a man trapped in a situation and makes some decisions that seem heroic.

Scott and I have agreed not to give away more than the first act of a movie – no spoilers. So it is difficult to explain why I have such low regard for this movie. But suffice it to say that it employs several classic Science Fiction devices that simply don’t make any sense. On top of that, the usual markers that expose when the first act is over are missing here. This movie is just scene after scene of beautifully constructed CGI. And terribly constructed story elements.


I think we’ve made our point. It’s not a bad movie if you just want to turn your brain off and enjoy gorgeous people juxtaposed with dazzling computer effects. For that reason, I give Oblivion 2 Reels out of 5.

As Greg notes, our hero Jack Harper does look good and manages to act with virtue while navigating through the convoluted story. He’s also great at dodging weaponry, taking punches, and making out with sultry women. As viewers, we really needed more backstory about the kind of man he was before the war started. That would have given his character more depth, dimensionality, and room for growth. I give him 2 Heroes out of 5.

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Dull, dull, and more dull. This is the first in a summer full of Science Fiction movies. I hope the rest of the Summer goes better. I think it’s generous, but I also give this movie 2 Reels and 2 Heroes.

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3 Comments

  1. Vic Smith says:

    Greg and Scott, I saw this movie yesterday and while I agree that the first half of the movie was slow, there are unexpected twists. I won’t say what they are so I don’t give away the story, but I disagree with much of what you said. While it is true that it doesn’t follow the rules you have laid down for what makes a good plot line and hero development, the twists in the plot make it difficult for this story to follow those rules. My biggest complaint about the movie is that the hero seems inordinately indestructible. He outruns explosions, survives crashes, etc. (ala Indiana Jones) with only a scratch on his nose, which becomes important later. But it is sci-fi so we must allow some latitude there. Regardless, the couple I went with and I felt we received our moneys worth when we left. Perhaps my brain turned off, though I wasn’t aware of it.

    The story did not follow the pedantic, cookie cutter plot line. The twists, turns, and amazing CGI made it, for me, a worthwhile couple of hours of at the movies. I would have said thought-provoking, but my brain was turned off at the time.

    I think with the CGI, interesting plot line, and the mere fact that Morgan Freeman made an appearance where he didn’t play God or the President, it deserves 3 reels and 3 Heroes.

    Of course, I could be wrong.

    Vic Smith

    • Greg Smith says:

      Vic,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the movie. I agree with you about Morgan Freeman. It’s funny but when Scott and I had lunch after watching Oblivion we said exactly the same thing about him not playing either God or the President!

      I wanted to respond to your comment about our “pedantic and cookie cutter plot” expectations. It’s not that we expect every movie to follow the same plot lines. But when a movie fails we look for the elements of archetypal storytelling that may be missing. For example, you rated the movie as 3 Reels. Why didn’t it rate 4 or 5? Usually it’s because the scriptwriters didn’t follow good hero or plot construction. And those are the elements we look for when we review the movies.

      But the ultimate test of whether a movie is good or bad is your reaction to it. If you were entertained – thumbs up! I was entertained to a certain degree but I was also bored in places. And that’s why I gave Oblivion a low score.

      Thanks for your comments. I’m looking forward to what the Summer has to offer!

      Greg

  2. Vic, thanks for sharing your opinion. I found myself wondering if the plot twists made it more cerebral than we gave it credit for or if those twists just masked more underlying problems. There is a ‘Big Reveal’ in the movie but I’m not sure that it cements the story. Perhaps if I let your thoughts percolate in my mind a bit I may come around to your way of thinking. Sometimes a 2nd viewing helps, too, which I haven’t done. You’re right that some movies, by their very nature, need to break a few rules. I’m not sure that Oblivion deserves that leeway but I respect your views and will give them consideration.

    Best wishes to you! 🙂

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