mag·nif·i·cent/magˈnifəsənt/ (adj.)

1. Impressively beautiful, elaborate, or extravagant; striking.
2. Very good; excellent.

Synonyms: splendid - gorgeous - grand - superb - glorious

WARNING: Some spoilers may be bound but I try to keep them light.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

"Are you an effective team?"

Oblivion (2013) is the sophomore outing of director Joseph Kosinski following 2010's Tron: Legacy. Oblivion is a post-apocalyptic, conspiracy science fiction film about a man named Jack Harper, who believes along with his assigned partner Vic they are the only two humans left on earth after it was viciously attacked by Scavs and most of mankind was able to escape offworld to Saturn's largest moon Titan, the film starts with only two weeks left in Jack's stay on Earth before joining the rest of mankind on Titan. Jack however is starting to have second thoughts.

Let me start off by saying this is a hard film to talk about without tripping over any spoilers, so I'll do my best to dance around them and in my usual way merely vaguely mention and imply things but if you want the complete spoiler-free experience while watching Oblivion you'd better stop here, and for that matter don't watch the trailer either!

First things first, the music. I'd be lying if knowing the fact that M83 did the score for this film wasn't about 50% the reason I wanted to see it in theaters. (In that one respect, maybe my hopes for this movie were a bit too high!) Thus far I gotta say I really applaud Joseph Kosinski for his music choices of his filmography. The decision to have Daft Punk score Tron: Legacy was like the shot heard around the world, and for the most part Daft Punk delivered. The score for that film was amazing, however nothing like anything anyone really expected. Here again Kosinski picks an electronic band that's never done any kind of film scoring before, but has a rather cinematic quality to their music (much more than Daft Punk even!) Much like Tron: Legacy, Oblivion's score is not what I was expecting.

M83's score is somewhat lost between being too subtle most of the time and what sounds like trying too hard to be Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy score. Now both being helmed by the same director it's possible to assume that Kosinski gave the same direction for both soundtracks or that he is perpetually set on using the same type of soundtrack in his films (god I hope not!) But more than likely I feel like M83 listened to Daft Punk's score a bit too much before taking on this gig, and as a result I have to say, I'm kind of disappointed. Oblivion's score isn't bad even by a long shot and it definitely has its moments, but knowing M83's music... hell go online right now and listen to any tracks (at random!) from their most recent album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming (2011) and I have to say I think no matter what tracks you picked it would have worked better over this film than most of this score.

I can't think of a better word to describe the acting in this film over all than "good." I think my favorite actor in the whole movie is Andrea Riseborough, playing Vic Jack's partner who doesn't want to mess anything up by breaking procedure this close to being done with the mission, even though she's such a tiny part of the whole film. Oh and Melissa Leo as Sally is pretty unmistakably amazing for her small role as Sally, Jack and Vic's only contact to the rest of humankind at the beginning of the film. Tom Cruise kind of seems out of place at the beginning of the film but as the plot unravels and you see the whole picture he works for the role pretty well. But even though Tom is good for this role and really works, it's nothing we haven't seen Tom Cruise do a million times before. Oh and Morgan Freeman is completely wasted in this role. All in all he was fine, I can't help but feel they just needed another big name to put on the posters and sell the movie around the world. Frankly this kind of role is kind of bellow him.

Also much like Tron: Legacy, Oblivion suffers from all sorts of holes, inconsistencies and gaps in logic ranging from small to HUGE. (Warning this is probably the most spoilerish I'm gonna get in this post.)

Let's go through a couple shall we? There's moments where Vic says "don't go there I don't have eyes on you!" and then the next shot is of her watching Jack on a her flat screen from the camera on the Bubble Plane? There's a point when Vic locks Jack outside and he's demanding for her to open the door, next thing you know we cut to him inside with no explination at all. What the heck? Major cut or jumps in continuity like that are completely inexcusable. There's a moment when Jack is looking for a single drone in the vast wasteland, and he even says "it's like looking for a needle in a haystack..." then he switches from flying a jet over to a tiny motorcycle? That makes NO sense even remotely, and just feels like an excuse to show off more technology, also inexcusable. For the first part of the film the "Scavs" wear this supposedly stealth armor technology for the first part of the film because it helps them hide from drone persecution "most of the time" up until they reveal what's actually going on... after that they never put on their helmets (even once!) for the remainder of the film, even when battling what? You guessed it drones! Jeez guys, don't you think those stealth suits would help with what they're made for!? And then there's the whole bit about the ending that pretty much undermines the awesome foe we've spent the whole film setting up. The enemy has pretty much no reason to let the heroes get as far as they do, especially when I'm pretty sure the enemy was just going to kill them anyway! Ugh I feel like I could go on all day with little things this film messes up on!

There's also some very predictable things that occur in this movie, especially if you're a fan of science fiction films. But I gotta say that for the most part I was impressed and when they went down a direction that seemed cliché or rehashed, I was usually pretty impressed that the film chose to turn and go a different way along the way making the story seem just original enough.

I figured going into this film that the visuals were going to be worthwhile. Joseph Kosinski comes from a background in industrial and architectural design, and in my opinion is far better at that than telling stories. I have to say though that I was very impressed with the way this film mixed real physical sets and scenery and CGI. Coming out of a world of Tron: Legacy which is understandably mostly shot against a blue screen I was rather impressed with how much of this movie is actually shot in and against the real world! Kosinki made the right choice in again working with the amazing designer Daniel Simon who was the lead designer on Tron: Legacy and designed this films Bubble ship, towers, weapons and general "sci-fi tech."

Another great choice was to continue working with cinematographer Claudio Miranda who's filmography pretty thus far pretty much only has hits, but also worked on last years Life of Pi (2012) and previously with Kosinski on Tron: Legacy. Miranda really knows how to place and move a camera. I found myself constantly in a state of awe with the simple but effective camera work in this film. Even during interior shots inside Jack and Vic's sky cabin where they live, Miranda always seems to find a new and interesting place to put the camera, which isn't easy if you watch most sci-fi films where the majority of the story takes place aboard futuristic ships.

For what it's worth I gotta say I really enjoyed the story of this film, especially the basic set up. Which is something I gotta say I never thought I'd say. I'm a big fan of Wall-E (2008) and the seemingly identical nature of the setup for this film was almost a huge turn off for me, but I'm glad to say that I think beyond the general similarities the film goes on to do it's own thing. Sure there's references and homages to a ton of other films in this movie but more often than not the film doesn't choose to go down those paths too far and kind of just hints at the homages rather than dwelling on them, which I appreciated.

I found the basic setup captivating and even though it's told in a voice over with lots of exposition, it really drew me into the world and didn't let go. I can't promise this experience for everyone but it really worked for me. And I'm glad the trailer didn't tell any more than it already did.

Lastly I got to say that for every stupid little thing this movie misses, there's just about as many cool little things it does too. For example, I love the way the film turns the initial exposition on its head with an unreliable narrator and by the end of the film what you realize something unexpected about the narrator from the beginning of the film. I like the way the drones are used throughout the film as something cool, and heroic and then gradually very terrifying. In the same way I also liked the way the film used the Sally character initially as this lovable voice of "home" and gradually transforms it into something else completely menacing and unexpectedly sinister.

Oblivion (2013) isn't the most original film ever, but for what it's worth it's a fun ride and a perfect rental or matinee. 4/5 Stars.

Happy watching!

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