Note: This appeared in the print-only TV Guide of the Marshall Independent.
Then out spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods,
“Horatius at the Bridge” by Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay
Don’t worry, it’s good and I’m going to recommend it. I have a weakness for movies that use good poetry as crucial plot elements.
But I’m also going to vent about a nonsensical plot element.
“Oblivion” is visually beautiful and tautly-paced as it moves through a set of revelations that All Is Not What It Seems. Revelations that always kept a step ahead of me, and I’ve read a lot of science fiction.
The movie is based on an eight-page treatment for a graphic novel, written by Joseph Kosinski who also directed.
Kosinski previously directed only “Tron: Legacy,” a short feature and some commercials. His background is in architecture and it shows. I REALLY want a tower house like he designed for the film.
The casting is as minimalist as the decor of the living quarters. There are seven actors with speaking parts, only four of whom have more than a few lines of dialog.
In the year 2077 Commander Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner and lover Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are two of the last people on Earth, or so they believe. They live in a tower house high above an earth ravaged by an alien invasion. Humanity won the war, but the Moon was destroyed and Earth so damaged the survivors are moving to Titan, a moon of Saturn. Or so it seems.
Gigantic machines are pumping the oceans into the sky to make Titan habitable, or so it seems. Jack’s job is to fly around in a very cool craft repairing robot drones that keep the last of the “scavs,” machines left by the alien invaders, from sabotaging the strip mining of Earth. Victoria stays home as ground control, and communicates with Sally (Melissa Leo) at Mission Control on the orbiting Tet, a gigantic spacecraft that will eventually carry the survivors to Titan. Or so it seems.
Jack and Victoria have been given mandatory memory wipes, for security purposes. But Jack has been having dreams of a beautiful woman who seems to be part of his past on Earth before the war.
You can guess he’s going to find her, and he does, in suspended animation in the wreckage of a crashed spaceship. Jack saves her after the drones kill all the other survivors.
Her name is Julia (Olga Kurylenko) and when he revives her, she looks at him and says, “Jack.”
The film moves very quickly from there, in ways of course I can’t tell you.
There are other survivors. The mission is not what it seems. Jack is not what he seems.
There is some good stuff in here that raises questions about what it means to be human, and what the price of knowledge is. Jack realizes what he thinks he knows doesn’t jibe with what he sees, and is determined to find out what is real.
That’s where “Horatius” comes in. He finds a copy of “Lays of Ancient Rome” in the ruins of a building and reads the verse that presages his fate.
Victoria ultimately does not want to know. She wants to cling to her comforting illusion, and in the end Jack cannot save her.
Between them stands Julia, and what she means to Jack’s past.
Kurylenko’s role in the film is so crucial it’s a bit surprising to realize how little dialog she has. With Kurylenko you don’t really care, she had a major part in one movie where she played a mute (“Centurion” 2010), and makes overalls look like haute couture.
Morgan Freeman as Malcolm Beech, leader of the last survivors on Earth, is in only three scenes but the whole outcome hinges on his part.
There are some nice touches, such as the question Sally ends every communication with, “Are you still an effective team?”
You don’t realize the importance of that question until the answer is, “No.”
There are some cute allusions, loving tributes to the SciFi movie genre and of course who could miss Tetris.
They’ve even managed to end with both heroic sacrifice and a happy ending.
Now my personal kvetch. Oceans of ice are available essentially free in the cometary belt and ice moons of Saturn, minerals in the asteroid belt. There is no conceivable reason for aliens to go deep into Earth’s gravity well for either.
Guys could you please use your imagination and come up with a plausible excuse for aliens to invade the earth? I bet it would generate some pretty neat story ideas too.