wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)
Joseph Kosinski’s ‘Oblivion’ is a massively-mounted film that feels hollow because of the larger focus on the exterior of the film rather than on its emotional core. Slow-moving and with a flawed screenplay, the film isn’t entirely unwatchable only because of how it looks and sounds, and because of Tom Cruise.Read more
The big problem with Joseph Kosinski’s sophomore feature, the sci-fi magnum opus ‘Oblivion’, based on a graphic novel written by Kosinski himself, is that, like his 2010 debut film TRON: Legacy, the focus seems to be more on how the film looks, as opposed to truly delving deep into the psyche of the characters, what they feel and why they feel the way they do; that and the fact that you can almost see the effort that has gone into making the film ‘feel’ like an epic. Perhaps some day filmmakers will realize that epics aren’t ‘made’; they just happen.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic future, one where Earth is nothing more than a barren wasteland, after an invasion and subsequent war with mysterious creatures known only as ‘Scavengers’; the war was won, but Earth was lost. Mankind has since developed an alternate plan for survival, and Jack and Victoria are teammates manning a station; they’re on a mission that is a part of this plan.
Unable to shake off a strong déjà vu of a number of previous sci-fi action films, including The Matrix, Inception, Total Recall and Source Code to name a few, Oblivion still had loads of potential. The film starts off well enough, amidst gorgeous visuals, the sepulchral feel and the intricately enigmatic air that is created by the images of a battered Earth. Also, there is something so poetic about a vast, endless canvas that has only one man and one woman in it to represent life and the memory of what it means to be a human being.
And then, there is the emotional core of the film - the fact that memories of true love can never fully be erased no matter what; that is the kind of thought that has the potential to melt even the most hardened cynics. Unfortunately, instead of exploring this emotion further, the film turns into an action thriller and a mystery. Even that could actually have worked if the film had a tight, gripping screenplay to back it up. The fact that the events unfold at a generous almost indulgent pace, again pointing to the fact that the attempt was to create a modern day classic, weakens the film further.
One of the film’s other big weaknesses is the fact that what should have been the soul of the film, the love between Tom Cruise’s character Jack, and Julia, the character played by Olga Kurylenko, just doesn’t come through; the two of them share the chemistry of a pair of wooden blocks. Andrea Riseborough, who plays Jack’s partner Victoria, is quite lovely, though she is eventually only reduced to a side character. Morgan Freeman is functional, but having him on screen does make you take things a little more seriously, sometimes.
Tom Cruise, I’ve always maintained, is one of last few ‘movie stars’ we have left. By that, I mean that he has this ability to make the most incredulous on-screen goings-on look completely believable; he almost lives the magic that cinema can be. This remarkable feature of the man is actually one of the only things that doesn’t make Oblivion a total waste of your time. Another undeniable plus point is the cinematography, by this year’s Academy Award winner for Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda. True, the film is heavily embellished with VFX, but it does look beautiful. The third aspect that marginally redeems the film is its soundtrack; credited to three composers, it is a nervous, edgy and heavily orchestral sound that is often reminiscent of a Hans Zimmer score, a tad over-cooked, but nevertheless one that stays true to the genre of the film.
Oblivion eventually amounts to a lost opportunity; a potential epic that doesn’t even go close. A majority of the audience will be quite happy to walk out after the film and forget about it soon after. And yet, all of the above are my thoughts as a student of cinema critiquing a cinematic work. Deep down, the part of me that believes that movies are more real than real life, actually loved Oblivion just for the potential that it had, even though it never fulfills it. I completely immersed myself into the indulgence of the film, the haunting feel, the sad but beautiful frames of a thriving planet reduced to rubble and that core emotional thought; that true love is a memory worth fighting for, worth dying for. I loved Oblivion, even though it offers plenty of reasons to not be loved.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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