Earth Is A Memory Worth Fighting For
For those unaware, this film has been in production for quite some time. Kosinski pitched the story as a comic and before it was published, film rights were already being discussed. Then Disney had a problem passing it as a kid friendly PG release, so Universal picked it up. After all the hype and speculation is it worth the wait? Not really, no.
Set in the future, mankind has survived a terrible intergalactic war but the planet has effectively been laid to waste. The majority of our species have evacuated to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, with a handful of individuals left on Earth to harvest the remaining sea water. Without their efforts, our race would die on Titan.. for some unknown reason. The story focuses on Tech Team 49, headed by former marine Jack Harper [Cruise] and his colleague Victoria [Riseborough]. Their tenure on Earth is nearly at an end and Jack is starting to suffer from strange dreams, dreams of a time and a woman that he can’t possibly know. But as the technicians had their minds wiped five years ago (again, for some unknown reason), he can’t piece it together. Despite the war being over, remnant s of the alien force are still on Earth, stealing things and sabotaging processers and drones, warranting the nickname scavs – short for scavengers. After being ambushed on one particular patrol, Jack believes that the scavs are not trying to kill him but to capture him. His doubts and suspicions are made worse when he witnesses a hibernation pod crash landing before being fired upon by the drones. Inside one of the pods is Julia [Kurylenko], the girl of Jack’s dreams.. quite literally. For a more spoiler happy analysis, scroll down.
Visually this movie is utterly spectacular. The locations, the props, the costumes, the effects, everything has a glorious high-definition sharpness to it and a sense of futuristic marvel. Granted, the fact that everything appears to be a barren wasteland bar the most obvious landmarks which, due to their size and age, would be the first buildings to be destroyed but that’s ignorable for now. The soundtrack feels a little like a re-hash of Tron: Legacy but it still manages to work and deliver a combination of fitting electronica and thundering orchestral stings. On top of that, the overall concept of the story is a reasonably clever concept, akin to science fiction films of the early seventies. But if we’re going to start talking about the story, we should probably start discussing the film’s major flaws.
We’ve established it’s a pretty film but outside of that, Oblivion leaves a lot to be desired. The acting is aptly suited but doesn’t really deliver much outside of the obvious, giving us a handful of very paint-by-numbers performances. But the actors can’t be held wholly responsible, as this primarily stems from the way the characters are written. Jack is chivalrous, rebellious and curious, Victoria is good natured but paranoid, Julia is whimpery and annoying and Malcolm is unnecessarily cryptic. And everything unfolds with an inevitably tedious pattern of predictable convenience. Then there’s the horrendous pacing issues; as an audience member, you don’t urge the story or action sequences to unfold, you simply wait for them to end. Much like Tron: Legacy the opening is gripping and the end is climactic but the middle third is so very slow and boring. If this were released in comic form (as originally designed), we would be treated to various stages of the story broken into fortnightly or monthly segments and I can imagine a lot of people dropping it after waiting for something to actually happen.
**Horribly spoilery paragraph**
Good visuals will only take you so far and the second you leave the cinema, several questions start to form in your head. To highlight these plot holes and problems, I need to ruin the story for you. Jack discovers that the scavs are actually humans. Oh my God! And there was no nuclear war. Oh my God! And he’s one of several thousand clones harvesting the Earth’s resources for an alien tetrahedron that blew up the moon. Oh my God! And Julia is actually Jack’s wife. Oh my God! Lucky for us, Malcolm Beech, played by Morgan Freeman, is leading the resistance and he has a plan to reprogram a drone, armed with a nuke and send it straight to the tetrahedron. All these developments are fine. Obvious and predictable but perfectly serviceable in a sci-fi setting. The major plot holes largely surround the survivors/scavs. First, how and why did they trigger a recall for a hibernation pod that had been floating in space for sixty years that nobody (including the alien) seemed to know about? On top of that, Beech is surprised when he learns that Julia is Jack’s wife, so clearly he didn’t know too much about its existence and mission. Then there are the silly little things like how did Beech know that Jack fixated on one specific verse, in one random book, how has no one discovered this quaint little paradise Jack has carved out for himself, if the Jack clones are fertile enough to make babies, are Victoria clones barren? I mean, they share a bed and shower and they clearly get into.. stuff.. but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of childhood. And why the five year mind wipe, two weeks to Titan shit? Do the clones have a limited life span? And what about Tech 52, if he loved Julia just as much, how come he didn’t notice her bleeding and whimpering in a cave and not try to help her then, rather than just wandering off? And what happened to the thousands of other clones or potential survivors? Of course, the biggest problem with the story isn’t the technical issues it’s the romantic element.. which is so stupid! Just because the original Victoria had an unrequited thing for the original Jack, this has been passed down genetically (that bit is fine) but everything from Julia being revived and not asking ANY questions is plain moronic. Having said all that, there was a couple sitting behind me in the screening gasping at every revelation and then muttering out loud what was happening. E.g. A ship lands and a second Jack Harper is investigating a downed drone, while the first Jack Harper looks on. It’s obvious to everyone that this is Tom Cruise looking at Tom Cruise but they’re still muttering, “Who is that? Who’s he?” Then Jack approaches and sees, oh my God! It’s another Jack! At which point, the couple bleated “Huh!? It’s him!? How.. what? Do you think it’s like time travel?” So, while I may assume the audience is faster than the film and the slow revelations insult our collective intelligence, I may have grossly overestimated the average cinemagoer’s ability to process a simple narrative.
It’s a shame as original science fiction stories should be encouraged, especially now that we have the technological capabilities to make mind blowing visual effects. Amid the 80’s/90’s Independence Day style of blowing things up and explaining nothing is thankfully going out of fashion. But where films like Oblivion and Prometheus fail is not the gorgeous worlds they create, or even the reasonably mediocre plot-hole ridden stories, it’s the deplorable characters. If we could combine a credible science fiction setting, with delightful visual sequences and compelling characters, we would have a truly exquisite science fiction release. Oh wait.. we already did.. in 2005. But only a handful of people saw Serenity. Damn it.
12th April 2013
The Scene To Look Out For:
Why does Jack have a motorbike? Why does he need a motorbike? What sort of fuel powers it (I know it’s fuel because there’s a little read out that says Fuel Low at one point) and where’s this coming from exactly? If the only answer is “I like motorbike sequences and wanted to film one” then it’s shit. And that’s my highlighted scene.. a technical annoyance.
Angela Riseborough is actually very effective in her role. She emotes to a brilliant level without being irritating and her steadfast refusal to listen to Jack’s whining about ‘the old ways’ is actually quite credible. Furthermore, she’s the only character in the whole film who isn’t a 2D stereotype, there’s a subtle complexity to her character and one of the frustrations of this release is that it’s never really explored.
“Fuck you, Sally”
In A Few Words:
“Mesmerising visual aesthetic but the two dimensional story and some godawful dialogue sullies a commendable sci-fi tale”