I would like to take a moment to give a shout-out to boring science fiction. I use the word “boring” not as a slam, but as a way to describe the quieter, more thoughtful branch of the genre.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love asteroid collisions, alien death rays, and intergalactic battles as much as the next nerd, but there is still a lot to be said for the likes of “2001,” “Solaris” (which I still think would be a great name for a midsized Chevy sedan) and “Moon,” just to name a few.
Granted not a whole lot happens in those movies, but the best examples always seem to possess a haunting beauty and use the genre to chew on some of the humanities’ weightier questions.
“Oblivion” is a boring science fiction film disguised as a Hollywood blockbuster, and while it should not be regarded as a member of the upper-echelon of this draggy subgenre, it still manages to bring a lot to the party.
The movie stars Tom Cruise, which is probably what will lead people to misguidedly expect many explosions and a great deal of running.
Cruise plays Jack, one of the last remaining humans on Earth after a war with aliens has decimated the planet. We are told the humans won the war but have been forced to flee the Earth for one of the moons of Jupiter.
Jack’s job is to oversee the removal of the planet’s remaining resources and monitor the drones that tool around searching for the remnants of the alien army.
He is joined in his mission by Victoria (played very solidly by Andrea Riseborogh), who serves as his mission control and never leaves their swank, Apple-designed, loft apartment high above the scorched surface of the Earth.
The two have had their memories wiped clean in order to protect their mission and their only contact with other humans comes in a daily video chat with their commander (played by Melissa Leo), who is located in an orbiting space station.
Jack begins to suspect that something is fishy after meeting Julia (Olga Kurylenko), the lone survivor of a crashed spacecraft, and those suspicions are confirmed after a run-in with the mysterious human Beech (Morgan Freeman, who totally rocks the hell out of his cyberpunk costume and goggle-like sunglasses).
Contrary to what I’ve said, stuff does happen in “Oblivion.” There are a few nifty little action sequences, but a surprising amount of the film is just people talking and Cruise motoring around a bombed-out Earth with a few recognizable landmarks poking out of the surface.
“Oblivion” was directed by Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”), who wrote the screenplay with Karl Gajdusek and script-polisher-extraordinaire Michael Arndt.
Kosinski is a visual director, and while he gives the script plenty of space to layout its various plot twists and musings on themes like identity and loyalty, this baby is all about the eye candy.
I saw “Oblivion” in an IMAX theater and it is one of the few feature films I’ve run across that fits the format beautifully with its big sweeping shots of an Icelandic landscape peppered with flawless special effects blended right in.
I think maybe the most favorable way to think about “Oblivion” is as a movie about loneliness and that basic human need to connect with other people. It’s not a film that will have you glued to the edge of your seat, but then again neither are any of the other worthy entrants into the glorious boring-science-fiction canon.
If you can manage to stay awake and dial back your run-and-gun expectations, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
“Oblivion” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality/nudity.