Jack Harper explains in a monologue in Oblivion’s beginning that Earth was invaded years ago by an alien race known as Scavengers who destroyed Earth’s moon. This caused overwhelming environmental catastrophes such as tsunamis that wrecked the planet. But humanity was able to fight back and repel the invading force, but the damage was done. Most survivors have been evacuated to Saturn’s moon Titan that is being terraformed, while a massive space station called the Tet orbits Earth. The Tet’s workers are implementing a process of draining the Earth’s resources, including oceans using these gigantic hydro-rigs that are manned and protected by drones. These deadly machines also roam the landscape and kill remaining Scavengers, who look like a cross between the tusken raiders in Star Wars and the Predator aliens.
Everyday, Jack Harper heads out in his bubbleship flying craft and checks on the drones. His job is to maintain and repair them. Aiding him is his lover and communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who has an aversion to exploring Earth and can’t wait to join the rest of humanity on Titan. Jack is the opposite, he is drawn to the Earth despite its ruinous state. He is obsessed with exploring the ruins, which are quite amazing with the way the Earth has reclaimed most of the cityscapes. Vast, barren wastelands cover most of the planet while occasional rusting remnants of structures like the Empire State Building stick out conspicuously from the grounds and crevasses.
Part of the reason for his obsession are these recurring dreams he has about living on Earth before it got ruined. One constant dream involves him visiting the Empire State Building with a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko). The thing is these memories occur about sixty years in the planet’s past, which only confuses Jack.
It turns out that the Earth isn’t quite so barren after all, Jack happens to commute from time to time at a secret valley retreat filled with flowering life: towering trees, verdant fields, clear lakes and a small cabin he built that is full of ancient mementos like books and vinyl records. He clearly doesn’t want to leave the Earth, but he and Victoria are slated to leave the planet in a couple of weeks when their mission concludes.
One day, he spots a spaceship crashing to Earth. At the crash site, he finds humans inside these high-tech coffin-like containers. They’re alive but in hibernation. Before he could investigate further, several drones fly in and destroy all but one of the containers. That one has the same woman from his dreams and she recognizes him. Before long, everything that Jack knew has been turned upside down as he learns that among other things that the woman he rescued, Julia, is actually his wife and the truth of what is going on with Earth isn’t what he believed it to be.
Oblivion is downright entertaining with many mysteries and questions that keep you guessing. Some of them can be figured out but are well done. Along the way, valid points about the nature of identity and the soul are brought up without being heavy handed or preachy. Director Joseph Kosinski once again presents a rich, well-realized sci-fi world that is a memorable followup to his previous film Tron: Legacy. He presents the Earth in a new way that is barren and desolate yet somehow beautiful to behold at times. Equally as stunning are the production design and future tech, which looks ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing. This was best seen with Jack and Victoria’s living quarters, a delicate looking, ethereal habitat on top of a tower above the clouds. Thanks to the rich cinematography, their home looks like some kind of futuristic heaven complete with floor-to-ceiling window panes that offer panoramic views of the world below.
Morgan Freeman turns in his usual spot-on performance as a sympathetic resistance leader of a downtrodden, hidden group of human survivors. The acting by Tom Cruise and the others is also quite good and balanced. Needless to say, the special effects were spectacular, at times the bubbleship visuals were very realistic and fooled the eye into thinking that such aircraft does exist. Joseph Kosinski demonstrates that he is a genre director to watch and celebrate. His directing style is confident and allowed for an evenly paced film that gives moments to pause and reflect rather than some mindless action romp. The world he created in Oblivion is simply a breathtaking marvel.
Lewis T. Grove