By now most critics have seen Oblivion and hordes of them are lukewarm about it. Words like pastiche, mish mash and rehash are thrown around to deride it. Some lament that it is a weak composite of older classics like, ‘The Matrix’, ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, ‘Wall-E’, and ‘Total Recall’, for better or worse that’s fine company to be compared to. Those who do compare it to these landmark movies are correct in accusing it of borrowing but ‘Oblivion’ manages to borrow and reassemble ideas into a smart, tasteful and enjoyable film that has enough unique components to help it stand out. Added to its appeal are its outstanding art direction, cinematography and another excellent Cruise performance which all combine to make a film that honours older films more than outright steals from them.
It’s the year 2077 and Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a drone repairman. He and his communications officer Vica (Andrea Riseborough) are the last humans on earth after the world was attacked by aliens. These aliens or scavs destroyed the moon which resulted in cataclysmic environmental upheavals. As a last-ditch attempt to oust the invaders nuclear power was used. Despite winning the war the earth was devastated and mostly uninhabitable. Earth’s remaining survivors migrated to the moon Titan, leaving only a manning station called the Tet to hover above the earth and supervise Victoria and Jack’s mission below. Jack and Vica oversee the extraction of the earth’s last remaining resources for those on Titan and the drones are used to hunt down and destroy the last few remnants of alien resistance that sabotage the mission.
As a precautionary measure Jack and Victoria’s memories of the last five years have been swiped so as to not divulge any information if they are captured by the scavs. Despite the swipe, Jack keeps having dreams about the past and meeting a mysterious woman on top of the Empire State Building before the war broke out. One day Jack and Vica pick up a pirate signal being transmitted from the Empire State and discover it is attracting a space ship called the Odyssey which has been orbiting the earth for more than 60 years. The ship crashes to earth unravelling a great mystery about Jack and the past.
‘Oblivion’ is based on an unpublished graphic novel written by the film’s director Joseph Kosinski, famous for the Tron remake of a few years ago. The story has a definite edge and excitement to it and the emotional pull in the film is strong and convincing, made so mostly by Cruise’s solid performance. What might have disappointed viewers may be the film’s slow pace at various times and its lack of depth in telling the backstory of the humans and aliens. The accusation of it being too derivative is not the film’s fatal flaw as discussed earlier. After Prometheus, sci-fi aficionados were expecting too much perhaps. ‘Oblivion’ does not explore philosophical, anthropological, or religious themes as deeply as other material but it does well in its exploration of the dystopian theme and the triumph of the human spirit over oppression and subjugation. So despite critics’ jaded outlook towards the film it deserves more praise than it received and might garner a bit more admiration in the near future.