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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Jetsons parody or Ikea commercial? (Oblivion review)

Oblivion yellow light Tom Cruise

I’m “biast” (pro): the trailer showed some potential

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)


Go on! Indulge in the very best movie promo tie-in ever: the Oblivion-branded Mandatory Memory Wipe, available at the concession stand with the popcorn and nachos. It’s so cool! Cuz then you walk into Oblivion with no recollection of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Independence Day and 2012 and The Road Warrior and Planet of the Apes and the entire history of science fiction movies, and hence you’ll enjoy yourself ever so much more.

And you get to be like Tom Cruise (Jack Reacher, Rock of Ages)! Because a “mandatory memory wipe” is exactly what his Jack Harper has undergone. It’s a security thing, you see, in case he gets captured by the alien Scavengers still scurrying around on planet Earth, still hanging out even though they lost the war with humans. (You’d think they’d take a hint and go home, but no.) The Scavs are intent on causing trouble, and it’s Jack’s job, as a sort of roving Maytag repairman, to keep in the air the fleet of drone weapons that are protecting, from Scav attack, the ginormous fusion-reactor thingies that are turning Earth’s oceans into a power source for Titan, moon of Saturn, to which the human survivors of the war have decamped, what with Earth reduced to a radioactive wasteland and all. (We’re here for our water!) Jack’s partner — in work and love — is Victoria (Andrea Riseborough [Shadow Dancer, Brighton Rock], cashing what I hope is a huge paycheck), and she’s been memory-wiped, too. Only two more weeks to go in their tour of duty, and then it’s their turn to head out to the new paradise on Titan.

If you believe that Titan awaits them, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn — only slightly damaged by some minor planetary crustal displacement — to sell you.

Of course, you do believe that — just like Jack and Victoria do! — because you cannot recall having seen anything like this before. To be fair, there is some small downside to experiencing Oblivion on Mandatory Memory Wipe. For in this postwar year of 2077, Earth may be a radioactive wasteland, all its cities erased from the planet, but it’s a bright, sunny kind of postapocalyptic hellscape: you won’t recall that we haven’t seen this before in a science fiction film. Sure, it kinda doesn’t make any sense, because it seems pretty likely that yer standard planetary ravagement of the sort that has supposed to have occurred here wouldn’t result in clear blue skies… but it is postcard-pretty — greetings from afterscape Earth! — in a strikingly original sci-fi way. I don’t know if writer-director Joseph Kosinski intends Jack and Victoria’s life to be a winking parody of The Jetsons — which you also won’t recall, your memory having been wiped — but it’s amusing anyway: their home in the sky is all sci-fi sleek and futuristic, and Jack gets in his shiny bubble helicopter every morning, after getting a kiss on the cheek from Victoria, to fly off on his rounds.

It’s possible that Kosinski instead imagined he was shooting a commercial for Ikea 2077, but that’s cool too. You will drool over the glossy domestic techno-porn that is Jack and Victoria’s cushy postapocalypse lifestyle. The film on the whole is far more visually intriguing than Kosinski’s debut, the dreadfully ugly Tron: Legacy. The imagery of the destroyed Moon — the loss of which ostensibly caused the geological upheaval that did much of the damage on Earth — is shocking like a train wreck, a colossal cracked egg in the sky now trailing rings of debris, but also beautiful, too, in a horrific way, like a mushroom cloud that never dissipates. If you’re going to see Oblivion, see it in IMAX, as I did: even without a memory wipe, you will get some geeky satisfaction out of its rendering of planet Earth, land and sky, as a newly alien place.

Just don’t expect to be much surprised by the plot or characters, which are so derivative not only of classic SF films and little cult favorites, many of which will have been seen only by the geekiest of geeks, but also of recent big-budget blockbusters that drew the same audience Oblivion will. Jack is bothered by dreams that feel like the memories he’s not supposed to have, and he can’t help but investigate things he’s told by his bosses to leave alone. The discoveries Jack makes as a result won’t satisfy anyone who might have been hoping for ideas as fresh as the visuals, and the rote sci-fi chases and battles padding out the movie do little to distract from that disappointment.


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Oblivion (2013)
US/Can release: Apr 19 2013
UK/Ire release: Apr 10 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated TDI: they did it, they finally did it!
MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate violence and one use of strong language)

viewed in 2D IMAX
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • DarkMagess

    There is no Titan! The Scavs are us! We did it to ourselves! Potentially also, We lost the war and must now perform duties for our alien overlords!

  • You tell everybody. Listen to me, Jean-Paul. You’ve gotta tell them! Oblivion is other people! We’ve gotta stop them somehow!

  • La la la la, I can’t hear you!

  • DarkMagess

    You know, now I’m just going to have to see it to know which tropes they used.

  • Maybe we can play SF-movie-trope bingo!

  • Make a list of tropes you think they’re gonna use, check off each as it comes up.

    This movie is in conflict with itself. Objectively, it needs to be seen in IMAX. On the other hand, the trope list clearly requires a shot after each check off, which can only be done at home.

    On an unrelated note, I are sad now. I had hopes for this movie, and now it looks I’ll keep waiting for some smart producer to pair Kosinski up with a proper screenplay.

  • RogerBW

    Do I catch just a small hint of Moon in there too?

  • JasperX

    the movie like an live action version of Wall-E…. in a cold and uninspiring way

  • Hmmm, mmmmm. Um, er…

  • FormerlyKnownAsBill

    i was getting Moon, too, and it made me hopeful.

  • Yeah, no: don’t be hopeful.

  • Also, there never was a Joshua.

  • Miguel

    Hanna Barbera destroyed the moon in the early 80s. Also, of course, deleted courtesy of the Mandatory Memory Wipe.

    http://www.the-other-view.com/thundarr.html

  • “the dreadfully ugly Tron Legacy” wut?

  • Rod Ribeiro

    I wasn’t getting Moon, and it really pissed me off when I realized it’s basically a shameless copy of Moon’s plot with 2001ish bad robots thrown in.

  • Keith

    I’ll add a couple other spoilery type comments (if you want to be surprise, what are you doing reading the comments section under a review), but if you are any sort of sci-fi fan, there isn’t anything here that you probably haven’t encountered before. Overall I was thinking Moon/The Island/Wall-E meets Minority Report/2001/Independence Day, with a bit of Portal thrown in. Sally made me think of GLaDOS crossed with Hal, and the drones reminded me of the memory cores like Wheatley, though both were done better in the Portal games. Saw someone mention the 2009 movie Cargo in another thread; want to check that out now to see what kind of plot similarities there are in it.

    I was mildly surprised by the biggest plot twist. From what I’d heard, I was expecting the truth to be more along the lines of what Elysium looks to be and not as much Independence Day (that the overlords were some sort of society elite). Some of the twists I predicted rather easily, like what happens with Julia and Tech-52. I did enjoy seeing it on the big screen. It was a very good looking movie and I liked his vehicle and the action scenes and visuals. Though by the end it does feel like they took the plots of several notable fan favorites and put them in a blender to get Oblivion.

  • I know, right? Tron Legacy was a lot of terrible things, but ugly isn’t one.

  • SPOILERS:

    If you’ve seen Moon, you’ve seen Oblivion. Just imagine if Moon was made with $100m extra and Tom Cruise.

  • Mscott

    New inductees to my Stupid Aliens Hall of Fame (like the ones in Signs who, knowing that water was deadly to them decided Earth was a neat and keeno place to settle on – not to mention the fact that trans-galactic travelers communicated by crop signs rather than um, y’know…radio):

    Super advanced techno-aliens with interstellar travel, immense cloning capacity, and ginormous energy harvesting technical capability who have sensors that detect Jack having another life form on board through the vacuum of space who aren’t aware that Tech 49 is piloting the WRONG FUCKING NUMBER SHIP.

    Is it a trope that all space-faring imperialist alien races are idiot savants?

  • Chuff Laver

    I dunno. One thing about the film seemed pretty timely: those fucking drones. A whole lotta “attack of the drones” is going on now in American foreign policy, but this is the first film I’ve seen which critiques that. Freeman has a line, something like, “They’re programmed to kill humans, which is a problem for me because I’m human.” Yeah, and it’s a problem for a lot of humans walking around today…not just the terrorists.

  • CB

    “the ones in Signs who, knowing that water was deadly to them decided Earth was a neat and keeno place to settle on”

    Naked. They were going to invade a planet covered in a substance deadly to them, and they were doing it naked.

    Also unarmed, so even primitive primates with clubs could easily defeat them.

    But once they decided to land on what was to them the Planet of Acid without so much as golashes, that second part is practically a footnote in their voluminous stupidity.

  • Kris Williamson

    Saw this this past weekend and have to say that MJ’s take on it is dead-on. Would also caution you to mind the gap or you might fall into one of the many holes in the plot. Which isn’t to say it isn’t watchable or fairly engaging. Catch it at a $2/second-run theater in a couple of months. Pretty good value at that price.

  • Nooneofimport

    I think she’s talking about the ugliness of it’s soul. It’s what’s on the inside that counts.

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