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Reviews of Oblivion - "Worse-Than-Average Among Stories Of This Type"

Posted: 05/02/2013 1:54 pm

This question originally appeared on Quora.

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Answer by Marc Bodnick, Movie addict


*** SPOILERS ***


Stale, slow, and formulaic.

I've seen this movie a million times -- "Things aren't what they appear to be," etc. Twenty years after seeing The Matrix, it's getting harder for any movie to entertain me with this kind of setup.

But Oblivion is worse-than-average among stories of this type. In this movie, the surprises and reveals are unusually predictable and uninteresting.

  • From the very beginning, we know something screwed up is going on, because the movie beats us over the head with the repressed dream of the woman and Tom Cruise's feeling of uneasiness. Yep, he knows something is missing from his memory! (Yawn.) More broadly, the memory-wipe premise made no logical sense in the context of the rest of the story setup, so right from the start the film waves a huge warning flag telling you that all is not what it seems to be.
  • Put another way, in Act I, instead of getting us to bite that the illusion-world is real, we spend the whole time waiting for the red-pill shoe to drop.
  • Then, in Act II, the reveals are sequenced in a way that robs the story of suspense and surprise. IMO, the best part of the story was clearly the reveal about the clones and the Tom Cruise mano-a-mano with Tom Cruise. This should have been the first reveal, not the second, and it would have knocked my socks off if done right. Instead, however, the story doesn't get to the cloning reveal until after we learn that the scavengers are really people (yawn), and after Morgan Freeman tells Tom Cruise that the contamination zone reveals some kind of eye-opening mystery. At that point, there's no oomph left in the surprise when you see the clone showdown in the desert. Boo!

All of this makes me really appreciate movies like The Matrix and Total Recall, where I felt genuine surprise and excitement.

There were other big story flaws in the movie that bummed me out.

  • Why did the rebels keep leaving the door open to their base and letting all of the civilians (i.e., the women and children who are all that remain of humanity's future) hang around exposed where drones could massacre them? For the love of God, tell everyone to stay inside under lock and key! Why was it so surprising/dismaying when the bad drones showed up?
  • This shut-the-goddamn-door point was really a problem when they tried to send their drone up to space to knock out the bad guy, but ... the other drones showed up at the same time (!) Ayiyi, that seemed like a very lame / forced solution to make Cruise and Freeman go up and manually deal with the outer space cube. Couldn't they have anticipated the other drones showing up and dealt with them first?
  • Also, I still don't understand why Tom Cruise's wife and her crew came to Earth in their shuttle pod, landing in Area 51 70 years after take-off. And what was the wife's prior relationship to Morgan Freeman? Was she a rebel? If so, how? I asked Yair Livne about the shuttle pod timing and he didn't know either, and he has a PhD in Economics from Stanford. So something is messed up.

And ... the acting wasn't very good:

  • Tom Cruise was OK, but man, I feel like I've seen all of his emotions before, over and over -- surprised, sad, focused, intense, scared. At this point, his action roles run together in my mind -- War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Mission Impossible I/II/III/IV, etc. I don't think it's fair to say that he mailed this one in, because he did a reasonably good job with the material. But it was hard to lose yourself in his performance because you've seen those facial expressions so many times over the past 20 years.
  • Morgan Freeman, oy -- yeah that one really did feel like a paycheck performance. So cliched. Felt like a cross between his character in Wanted and leftover-Morpheus.
  • Tom Cruise's rebel-wife turns in a pretty forgettable performance. We're supposed to have some kind of big reaction when we find out that Morgan Freeman is taking the bullet at the end, and she gets to live. But really who cares, am I right?
  • Victoria was pretty good. Probably best performance in the movie.
Look, the movie looked pretty good and kept my attention for 2 hours, so I won't give it one star. But it's possible that this movie was worse than Olympus Has Fallen and Jack Reacher, which is saying something.

...

Answer by Quentin Hardy,

In a strange way, this is an utterly fascinating picture. Uniquely, perhaps, you can enjoy it in an almost comprehensive fashion (there's good CGI, nice looking people running around doing stuff with space guns and touch screens) as long as you don't think about ANYTHING IN THE MOVIE AT ALL for even the briefest moment.

If you do think about it, the mental links run something like this (SPOILERS APLENTY):

"Hey, how do you turn seawater into fusion energy to take people to Titan -why there? - but hey,  there are also a zillion Tom Cruise people here tending drones - but you've got shit tons of these really powerful drones, why did you clone these Tom Cruise guys to repair them? Not to mention that you gave every one of these Cruise puppets a sky pad with big pyrex swimming pool so far in the clouds that it's hard to breathe, what's up with that? ... and anyway these clones are getting all surly how'd that pop in this generation, but not before, what's with the defect ... oh wait, you're not aliens at all, you're like this big space jukebox thing the Earthlings have to fight, by finding the homing beacon of a ship they've never heard of that has been orbiting Earth for  - Jesus - 60 years without falling into the atmosphere ... never mind, how come people are living in these shitty deserts when there's a perfectly nice advertisement for Colorado over the hill? Did I mention that it's weird that the Empire State Building is up to the collar in sand while nearby bridges are barely covered? ...."

You get the picture. It's kind of cool that all that stuff can be going on without becoming completely incoherent, it's almost a crazy weekend lover of crap movies - you walk away thinking - "okay, that was interesting, but what the hell just happened?"

...

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Answer by Ken Miyamoto, Working Screenwriter


Loving, or at the very least liking, a science fiction film, at least in my eyes, is all about execution within the set laws of whatever universe we are catapulted into.

Now, one can look at a science fiction film and debate those laws. They can pick apart the reasons why those laws are flawed and how the characters and story are a reflection of those flaws.

But for me, that's not what science fiction is about. If we were to do that, we couldn't, just plain couldn't, enjoy films like Looper, Inception, Avatar, Back to the Future, The Terminator franchise, and even The Matrix.

With Oblivion, we're given the laws of its universe, and yes, all is not as it seems, at least to the characters within the story that we are watching unfold. In that respect, I really liked this film.

That's what I like about any science fiction film, including those that I mentioned above. We are given the laws, the rules, and now we are going to see these characters deal with them.

Science fiction is not about how we think these events would or should unfold in real life, which is what I see in some thoughts and reviews of those who didn't take to Oblivion. That's why they call it science FICTION.  It's really not our job as viewers to pick apart why clones would remember this or not remember that. It's not about whether certain characters should make these choices or that. It's about watching the characters and story unfold within the confines of what is presented.

A perfect example is The Twilight Zone. How many episodes were there where astronauts landed on a planet and in the end, all is not as it seems? We know there's going to be a twist. Either they think it's Earth, and it is, but it's years upon years in the future or years upon years in the past. Or they think they are on a different planet when they are in fact on Earth. Despite being familiar with these types of stories, these episodes are often my favorites. Why?

Because it's about how the characters and the story unfold in the laws given. It's about watching how the characters react within the confines of those laws and setups. It's about watching how they get through each and every hurdle. It's about waiting to see how they come out the other end.

So with all of that said, here's what I really liked about Oblivion:

  • The world. Loved it. Loved the setup. Loved the concept. It engaged me from the trailer alone.
  • The tech. With science fiction, I'm always a sucker for concept design. And Joseph Kosinski and his team blew me away, just like his concept design for Tron: Legacy.
  • Cruise. People knock him. They knock him hard. And we often hear people say, while nodding their heads, "Yeah, it was a Tom Cruise performance." Well, a Tom Cruise performance is often ten levels above most of the actors in the market. He always brings his work ethic to each and every film. In Oblivion, he showcases that range of emotion, intensity, accompanied by his charm, etc. No different than what his previous generation counterpart of Paul Newman did before him (and with him in The Color of Money).
  • The special effects. Wow. Nothing more to say.
  • Joseph Kosinski. It's official. He is my pick for directing the second upcoming Star Wars sequel after JJ Abrams. No contest. He's the guy. In fact, if not for the producing strengths that Abrams brings to the table, I'd argue that I would have loved to see Kosinski do the first sequel. He is a great world builder. One would only need to look no further than Tron:  Legacy for that. Legacy lacked an emotional connection. Oblivion gave that to us.

Is it a 5 star movie? No. I can't give it that. I'll reserve that for The Dark Knight or Aliens. But Oblivion is an easy 4 star movie for me.

More discussion on Oblivion (2013 movie):

 

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