Science Fiction Oblivion is Style Without Substance

Tom Cruise Knows All About Style and No Substance Perhaps Another Lead Would Have Lifted Oblivion Up To A Subtle Sci-Fi Winner

2 of 5 DangersTwo out of Five Dangers

Science Fiction Oblivion Cinematography Style Pops — Losing Its Substance

(DL) — To say science fiction Oblivion is all style and no substance would be going too far.  Does Oblivion get too far down in the sci-fi weeds? No. But it does have Kubrick pacing, sharp infinite focus and thoughtful scenes to parse. What it lacks is soul. It rides some early tension in the first act, then fades. Unless you are a true sci-fi fan, Oblivion and its real science fiction pacing, cinematography and dark future will come off as slow, thoughtless and thin commercial scenery. Not everyone is willing go full on sci-fi.

If you enjoyed Sam Rockwell in Moon, you may almost like Tom Cruise in Oblivion.

False Reality Plausible Possibility

Science Fiction asks us to accept a false reality based on plausible possibility. Great stories are best when each turn comes as a surprise. Neither takes place in Oblivion. We enter Earth in the year 2077. Earth won a war against an alien race called Scavs. In winning the war 60 years prior, humans lost the planet.

Consider the Source

Oblivion follows its source material closely. Why is that? The director Joseph Kosinski just happens to be the writer. As a director he had a storyboard without having the need to create one.

Joseph Kosinski
Writer & Director Joseph Kosinski on Set of Oblivion in the Jokulheimar District of Iceland’s Highlands.

Our protagonist Jak Harper (Tom Cruise) tells us he is working on drones that protect giant mechanical beasts harvesting water for Earthlings now living on the Saturn moon Titan. The drones fight remaining Scavs that fight on against humans despite losing the war. Now the story begins.

Jak #49 Draws His Weapon in Defense Inspecting A Crash
Jak Draws His Weapon in Defense Inspecting A Crash

Jak is part of a two person team about to finish a tour of duty and join other Earthlings on Titan but his human nature and fragmented memories push him to get answers. His curiosity and love for Earth is not shared by his assigned romantic teammate Victoria yet he accepts her affections.

Iceland is Beautiful This Time of Year

Homage to just about every other sci-fi story and film take place in Oblivion. To mention those films would spoil the story and will be left out of this review. The land is as open and elegant as the details of the story are simple. Iceland stands in for a desolate yet somewhat inhabitable Earth during filming.

Despite the ominous predictability, Oblivion‘s first act is promising. While the established combat scenes have purpose, they don’t instill and real concern. A certain level of mystery remains intact just long enough for you to realize you’ve been let down. Any real threat fades.

What will the story be from here out? You are meant to experience plot twists and nuanced changes that draw you in wondering what will happen next. However when a protagonist in the story tells you in the first 30 seconds of the story he and everyone else that works on Earth’s drones must undergo a memory wipe, a smart sci-fi buff figures out the entire film in seconds. In fact you may have done so even now.


Great Pacing No Tension

Jak’s story is one of self-awareness, acceptance, redemption, love and of course overcoming insurmountable odds. Without latching on to any one of these plot lines the feel and believability of the characters is not enough to overcome the fact you have figured out what is coming next.

Drone #166
Drone #166 is a menacing foe in Oblivion.

In some films this is acceptable, look at the classic horror movie Jaws. You know the shark is going to eat someone but wow is it exciting to watch. This doesn’t take place in Oblivion at any point in the story.

Jak Faces Down Drone #166 In The Meadowlands Football Stadium
Jak Faces Down Drone #166 In The Meadowlands Football Stadium

Instead you are lead to believe the shark will get its prey, it will make a horrible mess and it will leave you in suffering for the victim. Then you realize it’s not going to happen. Never. There is zero tension. You wonder where the story can take you now? And still, the cinematography is so good, you go with it.

Victoria in tower #49
Victoria is Jak’s support and better half. They are an effective team.

This takes place over-and-over throughout Oblivion making an otherwise well acted, well constructed world that is spectacular eye candy — just another sci-fi. I give it two of five Danger’s due to the weak story and overall predictability, while it is still a watchable film. I experienced it on IMAX. For such stunning cinematography this is a must see on the big screen.

Jak's Valley
Jak’s Secret Valley: June Lake — Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.

The other saving grace for Oblivion is it’s pacing and direction. As outlined earlier the soul reason for watching this film is its stylistic cinematography of a post-apocalyptic wasteland and special effects.

Bubble Ship Landing Deck at Tower #49
There are inanimate characters. Jak has his bubble ship. He & Victoria live in tower #49

Oblivion The Graphic Novel

Oblivion was originally planned as a graphic novel by director Joseph Kosinski & Arvid Nelson for Radical Comics in 2005. Oblivion has never been published and is confirmed that it will never be printed as a graphic novel but may be printed as an illustrated novel with 40 or more wide format images.

The screenplay is by Michael Arndt utilizing earlier drafts by Karl Gajdusek and William Monahan (all of which are based on the unreleased graphic novel by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson). Kosinski also directed the video game Gears of War commercial featuring Mad World (Tears for Fears) performed by Gary Jules.

Oblivion Soundtrack by M83

Soundtrack: M83
Starring: Tom Cruise (Jak Harper) Olga Kurylenko (Julia) Andrea Riseborough (Victoria) Morgan Freeman (Malcolm Beech) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Sykes)
Writers: Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, Michael Ardnt
Director: Joseph Kosinski (Previous film credit – Tron: Legacy)
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 2hr 5 min