A Strange Review: Oblivion

Oblivion-poster-tom-cruise

Or Oblivious, which is what I was through most of this thing. Where to begin? At the beginning? Which one? (Please note: there are intentional spoilers, because I don’t want you, my dear readers, to waste your hard-earned money on a film so frustratingly maudlin, derivative, dull, and pointless that I almost choked on my Sno-Caps and snorted a Milk Dud.)

So Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is an astro-nought attending a space station high above a decimated Earth. If I’ve got the story straight, there were these Martians who either repossessed the moon for failure to make timely payments or blew up the moon because it was ruining their view of Chicago or some such. Anyway, then the rains came and the seas boiled over and football was no more. Phooey.

But the Martians didn’t stop there. No, they tried to take Earth too, the greedy bastards, but Earth men (namely you and me types) fought them off with nukes (smart), which pretty much devastated what was left of a moonless planet.

The only thing left for the remaining human population to do was leave Earth altogether and head for Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, also known for its lovely English breakfasts.

But Jack and his lover/colleague Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) were tasked with what amounted to a mopping-up expedition—fighting off the last of the space aliens, processing dreck into potable water for Titan’s Earth exiles, and collecting the mail to make sure it looked like someone was still home.

Jack and Victoria are due to finish their mission and head to Titan in a mere two weeks, but you know that whenever they give a deadline, something bad’s gonna happen to mess things up good. Nevertheless, Victoria hates the mission, refuses to join Jack on any of his sojourns to Earth’s surface, and can’t wait to get the hell out of Denver. Jack, however, has this nagging feeling that Earth is still his home and doesn’t want to leave. He also has these strange dreams and barely retrievable memories of New York City and the Empire State Building and a rendezvous and Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.

What’s more, Jack has a favorite hideout on Earth, a patch of green by a lake that has managed to retain its pristine condition, despite enough radiation and natural disaster to singe the last bacterium off of Chernobyl.

Then one day, a Big Thing falls out of the sky, which is why I always wear a hat. What is this? Jack asks. Why it’s the remnants of a NASA spaceship, and inside is Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who it turns out is Jack’s wife before Jack became a robot who gets into a fight with himself, the original Jack, who also falls out of the sky. But that’s for later.

Meanwhile, Victoria is not happy about Jack’s bringing a resucitated wife who has been in Delta Sleep for 60 years back to the space station. I mean, call first before you bring a guest home for dinner (“Gonna have to stretch the two pork chops, but whatever…”). OK, maybe Vickie’s a little jealous. But why are her pupils dilated like she’s just been to an opthamalogist? There’s a tension that bespeaks an unspoken something. To make matters worse, the only contact with home base, back on Titan, is Melissa Leo. And that can’t be good.

First of all, she’s always asking Vickie “Are you two still an effective team?” which is code for something, although who knows what. And whenever you have astro-noughts stranded somewhere for long periods of time and the only contact they have with “mission control” is a robotic voice or a virtual presence or Melissa Leo, well, you know someone’s lying about something.

Anyway, once Julia wipes 60 years’ worth of sand out of her eyeballs, she demands to be taken back to Earth’s surface to retrieve the data recorder from her wrecked ship. Only then will she be able to piece together where she is, why she is, and who she is.

Everybody got that?

So Jack, against Victoria’s wishes (you know how she gets), drives Julia into town—only they’re accosted by rejects from Road Warrior crossed with the Sand People from the original Star Wars. Jack suffers a terrible gash in the bridge of his nose—which proves to be important, because it’s the only way we’ll be able to tell “our” Jack from the other Jack whom “our” Jack beats up and hog ties. But that’s for later.

Turns out that what’s left of Earth is run by Morgan Freeman. Fine by me. Since he’s played God and Nelson Mandela, why not? Beech (Morgan Freeman, who I mentioned in the previous sentence) needs Jack to repair a damaged drone so he can send it into the sky and blow up the space station. Jack thinks Beech and his rejects have turned on the human race and gone over to the Martians (that part isn’t really clear, unlike the rest of this masterpiece), but Beech let’s Jack and Julia go with the understanding that once our astronaut hero learns the “truth” of the space station and the Martians and Titan and what the drones he’s been repairing really are for, he’ll come back and help this hapless gang of irradiated hobos.

At this point I wished I was in oblivion. I couldn’t figure out who was who and what was real and if there were Martians to begin with or people were robots or I was a robot or the guy in front of me was Vin Diesel or what.

Turns out that someone was telling a big fat lie about the whole “war” story. Whether it was some evil corporation who built the space station that blocked out the moon or blew up the moon or mooned Morgan Freeman or the space station is the alien being with a really bad case of the droopy Mondays, I don’t have a clue. All I know is that we were supposed to get all teary-eyed by the Armageddon-like ending and the reuniting of other Jack (the one without the gash on his nose) and original Julia in their house by the lake, where they presumably get letters from Kevin Costner in the past, which is where his career currently resides.

The trailer for The Man of Steel looked cool, though. Did you know Russell Crowe plays Jor-El?

That Oblivion video I posted a few days ago showed the extraordinary amount of work that went into this mess. But honestly, the whole things looks like a commercial for upscale bathroom makeovers. Stylistically, it borrows heavily from the aforementioned Star Wars (there’s a chase scene between Jack and some drones that looks like it was traced over the storyboards for the “Luke and Han blow up the Death Star” finale, only in this case, I couldn’t figure out who I was supposed to be rooting for or why). There’s a heavy Matrix homage, with Beech as Morpheus’s less spiritual and hip cousin. I mentioned Road Warrior, right? How about a little 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe I Married an Ax Murderer, but don’t hold me to that.

What was missing besides a script? How about that claustrophobic sense of increasing menace from Alien? How about a central character who isn’t his own twin? How about some original composition or camera work, like found in, oh, Road Warrior and 2001. How about a sense that you were in a world haunting and alien yet strangely familiar, like in Blade Runner? How about a mystery that, when finally revealed, reveals something that isn’t boring and stupid? How about characters whose fates you cared about, and a love affair you wanted to see consummated, like Trinity and Neo’s?

Was Victoria a robot? Is original Victoria still a frozen fetus in the giant black Triangle that talks and has frickin’ laser beams attached to its head?

AND I drank too much water with my $90 worth of concessions, so you know what that means, and like for the whole last hour of the film—but could I get up and go? Of course not, because somebody might sneeze a plot point that pulled all this claptrap into a vaguely recognizable narrative that wasn’t all middle (as in beginning, MIDDLE, and end).

Let’s hope this film does not consign Tom Cruise’s career to oblivion.

And will whoever stepped on my nachos/Whopper combo on his way to take a cellphone call please meet me outside? I have a knuckle sandwich I’d like to deliver.

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12 Responses to A Strange Review: Oblivion

  1. Lars Walker says:

    I think we’d see a lot fewer negative movie reviews if they’d just schedule bathroom breaks in the middle, like they did with Shoes of the Fisherman.

    Like

  2. ZZ says:

    So, we are lampooning a science fiction movie because the PLOT didn’t make sense. Listen, scifi is about dreams and being astounded and embracing weird concepts. If it’s not Shakespeare, I’m not concerned. I thought his flying machine was awesome. And I loved every stunning closeup of the Victoria character.

    Like

    • Anthony Sacramone says:

      Who was asking for Shakespeare? Sorry–a red herring. You read another review. I’ll take genuine mystery, awe-inspiring imagery, invention, and fun. As exhibited by all the counter-examples I mentioned, none of which were written by Shakespeare.

      Like

  3. JEH says:

    At the end of the film, I THOUGHT I knew what happened. Then I actually, you know, THOUGHT about it, and I realized it made no sense at all.

    Personally, I loved the drones. The drones were a lot more interesting than any of the people. You could tell this was the same guy who did the last Tron. The drone noises were incredibly menacing. Blowing out your eardrums with random dissonance is all it takes to be terrified (our IMAX theater is @#%$&*! loud…).

    I also thought it was stupid that his memories should magically show up in all his clones.

    Like

  4. Paul Ritchie says:

    Reviews are all over the map. Sounds like one liked it if celebrating National Weed Day. It looks like it will have to wait until I’m on a long flight.

    BTW, not sure I saw your take on Prometheus. Perhaps it was my lowered expectations, but I thought it a worthy entry.

    Like

    • Anthony Sacramone says:

      I didn’t write a formal review, I don’t think. But I agree with you. Not a masterwork, but intriguing. Ridley Scott is in a very religious mood of late. I eagerly await the sequel.

      Like

  5. Paul Ritchie says:

    I have a feeling that Prometheus will reward re-watching as well. He didn’t throw it together.

    Not sure that I’ll be as fanatical an evangel for it as I am for Unbreakable, though!

    Like

  6. JEH says:

    This guy always has great film reviews, and I almost always agree with his main points.

    As someone who thoroughly enjoyed Prometheus, I think he’s entirely correct about its philosophical/thematic content. (I also made sure to watch Alien an hour beforehand for good measure)
    http://badassdigest.com/2012/06/17/film-crit-hulk-smash-the-damon-lindleof-intervention/

    Like

  7. RJ says:

    Actually, I think I have to disagree with you on one point… This film DID almost get me teary-eyed and rooting for the human race, albeit indirectly… because it inspired the review that I just read, rightfully trashing this horribly contrived & overhyped piece of garbage that I had the misfortune of watching! Apparently I’m not incapable of uncovering the coherency of this story line, but there WASN’T one.

    Someone above mentioned something about this review being too critical towards what was merely meant to be a sci-fi flick, but I hardly think expecting a film with a $120,000,000 price tag to just make sense is asking too much. Again, thanks for the review. You nailed it.

    Like

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