The Desolate Beauty Of Oblivion

oblvion poster 3Oblivion is the latest thought-provoking sci-fi epic directed by Joseph Kosinski. It stars Tom Cruise in the pivotal role of Jack Harper, a drone technician several decades from now.

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.

more ruinsEveryday, 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.

ruins

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. harper and wifeThat 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 bubbleship dockedthat 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.

harper and morgan freemanMorgan 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

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It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year…For Trailers!

pacific rim kirk

A fairly recent trend with movie studios these days during the holiday season is to build up excitement for their upcoming releases. This is being done with long-awaited trailers, in this year’s case, trailers for upcoming 2013 movies. It seems that sandwiched in between the big summer conventions with their super-exclusive trailers and clips and the Super Bowl, the best time for fans to first watch trailers is during the holiday season.

In rapid fire, studios are ramping up expectations and satisfying all those who couldn’t make it to the conventions and had to resort to watching bootleg copies filmed on someone’s phone. Forget the Super Bowl, who wants to sit through hours of sports and inane non-genre commercials just to glimpse a brief look at a summer film? It seems as if the holiday season has become the best time to whet fans’ appetites. During summer conventions, the films are far from finished and all that is available are teasers, but by the time the holidays are around, special effects shots are done and if there is something that may not set the world on fire based on reactions, there is still time to tweak the film or the marketing. Sure it’s nothing but Advertising 101 but it works.

To date, this season has seen newly minted trailers for summer 2013 movies like After Earth, Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim, and Star Trek Into Darkness. One genre film that is coming out instead in the spring is the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion and that is one of the most interesting trailers. Evoking a ruined Earth motif and a lonely observer ala WALL-E, the images of nature reclaiming man-made structures are very arresting.

man of steelThe Man Of Steel trailer was a mixed bag, however. Like the teaser released in the summer, it comes off as very pretentious like a Terrence Malick movie but midway through it, the tempo picked up with exciting action shots of Superman. Still many are feeling skeptical being that its directed by Zack Snyder, who has a hit or miss track record. Ditto with After Earth, which stars Will Smith and is directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The director has hit a rough patch with his recent films and is in dire need of a comeback. Will After Earth do it for him? Or will it be The Happening of 2013?

Of course all this oohing and ahhing over trailers doesn’t mean the film will be great. Many of us are still smarting over being let down after all the excitement from seeing the Prometheus trailer that came out last year. At the same time, the trailer released last year around this time for The Avengers was just an average trailer. It wasn’t until spring that the definitive exciting trailer came out that set off a storm of anticipation for The Avengers.

So which trailers are the favorites? That is hard to say, but the spots for Pacific Rim and Star Trek Into Darkness caught my attention. Pacific Rim had those cool giant robots and the entire thing seemed like a mashup of Cloverfield meeting the Transformers. But being that Michael Bay isn’t directing Pacific Rim adds many points to it. It turned out that the recent trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t the teaser but the announcement for the teaser which came out today. The trailer was chock full of cool f/x shots, explosions and screaming, the kind of thing Star Trek is famous for, well not really. While Star Trek Into Darkness seems more like an action movie than one about exploration and not about the original spirit of Star Trek, the trailer does make it look exciting.

Now if only the movie studios would only give us a peek at The Wolverine, Kick-Ass 2 and Elysium.

Waldermann Rivera