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The Last Contrarian
 
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The Contrarian's Movie Review: Oblivion

16 April 2013, 08:24
It has been a good year if you are an experienced moviegoer and at the same time forced to endure the flood of fecal excrement that Hollywood calls ‘entertainment.’ But starting with Cloud Atlas, moving on to The Croods, and now including Oblivion, I’d say that I am starting to find Western movies about as entertaining as I do Eastern movies. 2013 Seems to be a lucky number for Hollywood. I can actually say I am being entertained again!

Oblivion is a masterpiece of a Sci-Fi movie, and trust me; I know what I am talking about. There is not a Sci-Fi movie released in the last four decades that I’ve not seen. I absolutely love the ‘futuristic look’ Sci-Fi movies and series of the 90s, so much so that I still love rewatching episodes of The Outer Limits. I even feel a sense of optimism about the future when I watch movies such as I Robot, The Fith Element, Total Recall (even the remake), Aliens, Blade Runner (not the infamous amputee athlete), A Space Odyssey, etc. I have been longing to re-experience some of that futuristic feeling in a movie, only with modern-day special effects and cinematography.

Of course, I play PC games also, and the Mass Effect series scratched the Sci-Fi fix that Hollywood could or would not. I was ecstatic and alarmed to hear that there is a Mass Effect movie in the works, but with Oblivion out, I feel that craving for a classic Sci-Fi has been satiated.

I am not a Tom Cruise fan. Frankly, I get annoyed when people have this reaction to a film, “I just know it is going to be good because it has X actor in it and was directed by X person.” I’ve seen pathetic movies starred in by some of the most renowned actors, and I’ve seen utter garbage (Avatar) come from once visionary directors (my list of which no longer includes James ‘Money Whore’ Cameron).

Who directed a film and who stars in it rarely get me excited about a Hollywood movie these days.

Case in point is the fact that the director of Oblivion is the stunted intellect that gave us TRON Legacy, a movie so bad that it needed blinding LED lights on everything, in every scene, just to keep me from staring off into the darkness of the cinema! How can someone so plain and so talentless come out with a masterpiece like Oblivion, just a few years later? I guess it is the triumph of the hundreds of creative people that surrounded Joseph Kosinski and guided him along the path of success.

On the back of that ‘you can’t fool me with famous names’ attitude rides my utter dismissal of the actor Tom Cruise. I have no respect for him as a person, and I think as an actor he is just another handsome-face case that gets a little too much attention from people who  judge talent based on physical attractiveness.

That said, I absolutely cannot imagine anyone playing the part of Jack Harper (the main character of Oblivion) better than Tom Cruise did. Cruise captured the ‘still acting’ moments so well that I think he has finally found his niche! For an action hero Tom Cruise ain’t. But some naïve robot tech in futuristic clothing he certainly is!

The Review

Oblivion starts by showing us a world ravaged by an alien threat. Apart from the imploded moon, it looks very similar to the world we saw in the PC game Half-Life 2, in which aliens also attacked earth and laid waste to the environment. The ocean levels have dropped significantly (imagine that you global warming alarmists), and what were once bastions of human ingenuity are now nothing more than piles of rubble. Even the major cities are leveled.

From the narration we learn that humans fought back, used nukes, and apparently won the war. However, what is left of humanity now has to endure on one of the moons of Jupiter, as Earth is too damaged to sustain any population. Still crawling about the surface of Earth are the remnant aliens that brought hell down from the skies and whipped out our natural home.

Stylistically, the post-apocalyptic Earth in Oblivion looks much less depressing and cluttered than what we are used to seeing. It seems nature is reclaiming the wastelands in some parts, even if it is just grey, irradiated sand. I personally think this is a refreshing look for the scorched Earth and it gave me a glimmer of hope early on that maybe I will see something new and creative in this movie.

After the intro we see Jack Harper and his team mate. She serves no real purpose other than to relay instructions to Jack when he is in the field and to serve as his sex-doll when he heads back to their sky-tower after a day spent fixing droids and dodging the aliens. They are the last two people stationed on Earth and their job is to monitor and protect the enormous fusion reactors that turn seawater into raw energy to sustain the colony on Jupiter’s moon. These fusion reactors are a critical installation, and if they fall, so does the remainder of humanity.

Apart from futuristic plasma / laser weaponry, the two-person team also have some bad-ass drone robots to help them fend off attacks from the remaining alien presence on Earth.

These drones are the coolest robot’s I’ve ever seen in a movie. Even the T-800 from Terminator 1 & 2 does not scream ‘cool’ as loudly as these floating orbs of destruction. Anyone who has played the Portal games on Steam will see an uncanny resemblance between the robots in Oblivion and those found throughout the Portal games.

While the conflict of an all out war has ceases, the embedded alien presence are relentless in their unfulfilled ambition to level the fusion reactors and choke the last of humanity to death where they are exiled. The aliens, though, are not nearly the super-intelligent beings one has come to expect from alien invasion movies like Independence Day. Nonetheless, they seem enough of a threat that people have to live off world. Also pointing to the persisting threat, the remaining military and political structures of our species have set up a massive refugee camp in space. An enormous metal structure called the Tet (short for Tetrahedron, a 3D triangle).

From this Tet command post, the two-person team comprising of the protagonist and the sex-doll is tasked with maintaining the defender drones and scrambling them to any detected alien threat. Luckily, for the team, it is the final days of their shift on Earth. The next maintenance team will take over once they complete their stint, and then they get to go party it up with the survivors on the moon of Jupiter.

As a security measure (in case they are captured during fieldwork, perhaps) the maintenance teams stationed on Earth undergo a mandatory memory wipe before being stationed on site. They can’t remember anything of their lives before the mission, but Jack Harper is getting flashbacks of places and people almost as if he has a memory of life on Earth. Human curiosity takes over and Jack is starting to find things that don’t add up. He is torn between sticking it out until they get to go back to the colony and pressing on to find out what these flashbacks he is getting represent.

This inner conflict in Jack drives the story forward in a way that I found very difficult to predict. This makes  the movie’s story as gripping and fresh as its visuals. This is something I am used to seeing in Japanese anime, not western Sci-Fi movies. In fact, there is a specific Japanese Sci-Fi Anime that is extremely similar to Oblivion in theme and story. I won’t reveal that anime’s name because that may spoil some parts of the movie for those of us who have eclectic interests.

Oblivion indeed seems to have drawn inspiration from many other Sci-Fi productions. Games, Anime, and some cult classics like A Space Odyssey all have elements and parallels in Oblivion. Overdone it can make a movie feel like a cheap rip-off, but Oblivion balances these familiar elements well with new experiences and twists that absolutely makes it thrill to watch.

Summary

Many people complain that the opening is too drawn out. I feel it plays an important part in hypnotizing the audience into seeing the world of Oblivion and its elements as the main character of the movie see them. Then it masterfully throws the audience a well-aimed curveball—something akin of Japanese and Korean movies.

Oblivion got me sitting up in my seat and jolting back in shock… only to sit up again and take interest in every little detail. Even the technical glitch in the IMAX theatre’s sound system (losing all the surround sound speakers but the two front ones) could not dampen my experience of the movie. Luckily, the cinema gave us disgruntled customers replacement tickets to come and see the movie again—something I will definitely capitalize on!

Final Score

Oblivion is the Sci-Fi movie many Sci-Fi junkies have been waiting for. It is presented in a way that makes it look familiar yet distinct, and accompanying the impressive visuals is a story filled with surprises and an unfolding that one cannot predict (these are uncommonly rare traits in Western storytelling).

Oblivion gets 9.0/10 from me, which is a remarkable achievement for a movie that I expected so little of, yet got so much out of in the end. If you love Sci-Fi classics and futuristic movies with a twist, you need to see Oblivion!

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