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In Association with
Oblivion (2013)
Director: Joseph Kosinski

review by J.C. Hartley

This film was in trouble before it ever came to the big screen. Viewers of the publicity releases asked why the filmmakers would allow such a major reveal as they did in the trailer. After an apocalyptical war with alien invaders, on a devastated and apparently abandoned Earth, there are still human survivors led by a cigar-smoking Morgan Freeman; get out of here, why would I want to see that? I was more concerned that the character of Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) looked like CGI in the trailer. This is happening a lot; is it hasty trailer-editing, is it my TV, is it my eyesight? I was only slightly relieved that she still looked like CGI in the DVD as well. Is this some sort of clue? Many people suspect that the star, Tom Cruise, is and always has been CGI so that didn't matter. (OK, people don't suspect this). This film starts with Tom Cruise's character doing a scene-setting voiceover which got my back up from the outset.

Tech 49, Jack Harper, and his colleague and lover Victoria, live in a base in the clouds above Earth, from where Jack travels down to the surface, to service the drones that protect huge machines harvesting seawater to provide the nuclear energy needed by the surviving Earth colony on Titan. The pair are mentored by Sally, from an orbiting space-station called the Tet (tetrahedron); "Are you an effective team?" she asks. "Damn right we are!" says Victoria. This creepy exchange is one of the good things about this film, this and the drones; I loved the drones.

The Earth is uninhabitable and menaced by surviving bands of alien 'Scavs', but Jack has his own little oasis in a lush valley where he shoots hoops and chillaxes. "You should let me take you to the surface," he tells Victoria, but she would rather make out with him in the base swimming-pool. The pair have had memory-wipes, which is never explained, but Jack has flashbacks about a rendezvous with a mysterious woman at the Empire State Building. So far, so idyllic, but then stuff goes wrong.

An attack by Scavs sabotages one of the energy-harvesting machines. A signal broadcast from a Scav lair results in the crash-landing of escape pods carrying humans which the drones attempt to destroy. Jack rescues Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who seems to be the woman from his buried memories. Jack has a run-in with Scavs who are revealed to be human survivors of the war; their leader Beech (Freeman) asserts that Jack's view of recent history is all wrong and humanity lost the war, there is no colony on Titan, and the Tet is an alien base. There is another switch to come, but when it does it's more an 'OK then' than a 'WTF!' In fact, the film seems to positively speed-up to its finale but whether this is to rack-up the tension, or skip over the preposterousness and the sense of seen-it-all-before, it's hard to say.

Director Joseph Kosinski was apparently keen to homage classic SF films of the past, but homage can be a hard thing to do, and there is always the danger of appearing to have dragged out the old familiar tropes. That said, the film looks good, and I didn't hate it. But the poet in me wished for less shooting and maybe a slower more philosophical pace. Kurylenko has said she watched Solaris to get in the mood, and I can't help wondering what a Tarkovsky might have done with similar material.


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