4/10 Omega Men
Well that was surprisingly familiar.
Oblivion takes place 60 years after we fought back the aliens who invaded our planet. Though we ultimately won the war, countless lives were lost and the Earth was left a radioactive wasteland. As for the survivors, they decided it was as good a time as any to jump ship and started a new life over on Titan, the sixth moon of Saturn. Back on Earth, one man with a mean case of amnesia serves as a maintenance crew of sorts for some space-age mega-structures that are turning our oceans into fuel for future use on Titan. It’d be a pretty easy gig if it weren’t for the leftover aliens (or “scavs” as they’re called) that keep sabotaging things, but our guy’s up for the challenge. But the more time that passes, the smarter these scavs become. Before he knows it, his simple job ain’t so simple anymore, and as his memory starts to return, his world begins to change.
If this is all sounding a little familiar, then go to the front of the class and give yourself a gold star, friend. Because as intriguing as this all may sound and as purdy as these screen grabs may be, I’ve been having a hard time thinking back on Oblivion without thinking about the movies it reminds me of. So for any of you who are the least bit familiar with some of the all-time sci-fi greats, then prepare yourself for a some déjà vu. We’ve got a Frankenscript on our hands.
“A Frankenscript?!” you scream, the blood rushing from your face. That’s right, little Johnny, and you’d best get to hiding yo’ kids and hiding yo’ wife if you know what’s good for ya’.
If all this is stuff coming as news (being that I just invented it and all), a Frankenscript is a bastard, a lesser child born from icons that came before it. It’s a greatest hits record, one that just doesn’t cut it in comparison to the original albums. It’s like Nevermind compared to that piece of crap that came out in ’02. You get the idea, and it’s a sorry situation alright, terrifying even. But before we form a posse and start killing it with fire, let’s at least take a step back to appreciate the few merits of its existence.
Now, I don’t know how the masses feel on the matter, but I dug TRON: Legacy quite a bit. It was Joseph Kosinski’s first feature-length effort, it had the weight of the nerd world riding on its shoulders, and depending on who you ask, it lived up to the hype. Sure, the script got a little ahead of itself at times, but damn if it wasn’t some good old-fashioned neon fun. Anyhow, it didn’t take much for Koskinski to win me over and it was his involvement in Oblivion that got me interested in the first place.
From a visual standpoint, it’s hard to deny how slick the art direction is here even if it does borrow a lot from TRON and even if it pales in comparison. The difference is that he built a full-fledged digital universe in TRON, where as this is driven more by style points than anything else. Still, from the weapons to the outfits, the vehicles to the architecture, Kosinki’s designs are both easy on the eyes and about the only things that make this bad boy feel new. Wish I could say the same thing about the underwhelming action scenes, but that’s what you get when all your bad guys are carbon copies of lifeless drones.
I guess the only other defense I’ve got is that, as painfully derivative as it is, I was still invested enough to see how everything played out. Then again, when your whole is shrouded in mystery like this, it’s less of a compliment earned than one that inevitably comes with the territory.
Yeesh, as far as defenses go, that one was pretty bad. So without further ado, let’s break out the pitchforks and get to the prosecution!
First off, no one expects every movie they see to be utterly original from head to toe. That’s just crazy, that’s just impossible, and if Quentin Tarantino has taught us anything over the years, it’s that Marcellus Wallace is not, I repeat, not a bitch, and that amazing things can happen when you borrow from other movies. Furthermore, the problem with Oblivion isn’t that it’s unoriginal, it’s just that it doesn’t do enough with the material it borrows from to make the end result feel unique. I can only imagine that the thought process behind this was to take all the best aspects from a handful of classics, mix ’em all together and hope that it t tasted like goddamn parfait.
Oh, and give it a cool name! Gotta give it a cool name.
It’s actually not a terrible idea from the outset, after all, I done bought a ticket and I done took the ride. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before everything just became…vapid. For example, you ever meet someone who’s absolutely gorgeous, I’m talking “Abercrombie gorgeous,” the kind of person you just gravitate towards based solely on their looks and how they carry themselves? You know who I’m talking about, and if you’re courageous enough, you might even introduce yourself to them. You smile, they smile, you say “Hi,” and then they speak. And just like that, nonsense hits your ears, their dead eyes come into focus, and before you know it, your worldview is shattered.
That, in a nutshell, is the makeup of Oblivion: an Abercrombie body with a Frankenscript personality.
Oh yes, everything is not as it seems in Oblivion, but the sad reality is that for every big reveal that it throws our way, it just doesn’t have the substance or character to support it. Despite my interest in watching the truths come to light, I couldn’t have cared less about the hero of our story or even the truths themselves once the layers were peeled back. Not only that, but the way this story is plotted and approached is nothing short of bizzare.
I hated Tom’s opening narration that simply spells out everything we need to know about him and the world as he knows it. For a movie that’s so hellbent on keeping us guessing, why would you just give us the 411 like that? For chrissakes, don’t tell us what’s up, show us what’s up and let us piece the puzzle together on our own. We moviegoing folk are smarter than you give us credit for, and don’t just overcomplicate your plot for the sake of overcomplicating it. It just makes everything look sloppier than it already is.
And I am so effing tired of amnesic protagonists. What a lazy-ass gimmick to keep an audience in the dark, one that even the almighty Maverick couldn’t help me look past. Also not sure where all this praise for Tom Cruise is coming from because the dude is just fine, nothing more. It’s no Collateral, I’ll tell you that much.
Also, last thing: way to give one of your characters one of the worst parting lines since the glory days of Schwarzenegger. Just wait for it, it is horrendous.
I wish I had better news to report, but that’s really the long and short of it. Then again, let’s not forget that it does have its merits. At the very least it’ll keep you watching, and I imagine that’ll quite a long way for a lot of folks. However, if you haven’t seen any of the sci-fi classics that this movie reeks of, then the way I see it is that you’re left with two options. The first is to go see Oblivion and get your brain sufficiently blown every step of the way. It will be awesome, you’ll think I’m crazy, it’ll be a point of contention between us for years to come. The second option (the one that I would recommend) is that you do the right thing and go watch Planet of the Apes, Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey. I know, I know, it’s three times the investment, but the last thing I’d want to happen is to have the genuine article sullied by an imitator.
It’s really a shame that Oblivion‘s writers didn’t try harder to give us a story of substance after all the grand theft cinema it so blatantly commits, because there was certainly no shortage of material to work with. It really could have been fulfilling, it really could have been something special. After all, the world is a better place with more sci-fi classics to choose from.
But alas, the search continues…