The UnPopular Opinion: Oblivion
THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!
****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****
There is something about Tom Cruise that just works well with science fiction. Maybe it is his everyman quality that makes him seem both like a superhero and a normal guy you might see on the street that allows audiences to relate to him in perilous and fantastic situations. After departing the romantic hunk phase of his career, seeing Cruise take meatier roles in both blockbusters and dramas has been a treat for us who watch his movies. OBLIVION is another example of those movies and follows suit with Cruise flicks like MINORITY REPORT and maybe even the upcoming EDGE OF TOMORROW.
Many had high hopes dashed when they saw OBLIVION and called it a pretty movie with a pretty bad screenplay. Similar comments were made about director Joseph Kosinski's previous scifi film, TRON: LEGACY. Both movies do share that impeccable visual style that can overpower the script, but OBLIVION is far from a mediocre flick. It has all of the elements that make for an enjoyable post-apocalyptic action movie as well as the secret weapon in Tom Cruise.
Call him Sexy WALL-E
Unlike TRON: LEGACY, OBLIVION is not based on any prior films or existing properties. Kosinski developed OBLIVION as a graphic novel which went on to serve as the basis for the film. But, while it may be visually unique, OBLIVION is steeped in everything that has made up countless scifi films before it. Some may call this derivative or even cliche, but it works in OBLIVION. I heard the joke that the film should have been titled M. Night Shyamalan's OBLIVION for the way the film takes beautiful imagery, a decent script, and a twist ending and calls it a complete film. I would actually consider that a compliment for OBLIVION as it feels as refreshing and enjoyable as Shyamalan's earlier work.
We all know the old saying that every story has already been told. The goal is to tell it in a unique way. As technology grows and changes, we are now seeing movies that otherwise never could have been possible. But, there is nothing wrong with telling a story we have seen before and doing it well. OBLIVION exists as a gorgeous layer on top of a tried and true story: man left alone doing his job only to discover that job may not be what it seems. It doesn't sound terribly unique, but the landscapes of Iceland used to portray the desolate future Jack Harper inhabits are stunning. The set design for OBLIVION is impressive as well as the film has to balance the clean futuristic technology with the gritty, makeshift world of Morgan Freeman's band of survivors.
Game of Thrones 2077
But, what makes OBLIVION work is the cast. Supporting cast-members Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell, and Andrea Riseborough do an admirable job populating the world of the film. Morgan Freeman is a solid addition to any movie and proves once again that he can turn any role into a must watch performance. Olga Kurylenko does a good job with the little her role has to offer, but she isn't here for her acting ability. The crux of what makes OBLIVION a success is Tom Cruise. Even in his shittiest movies (ahem, KNIGHT AND DAY), Cruise manages to make lemons out of lemonade. Here, he gives Jack Harper an approachable quality that makes the character feel like a normal guy in extraordinary circumstances while also setting himself apart as someone we can believe in and root for. Cruise doesn't have to rely on yelling his lines as he has in the past and instead puts a true emotional core at the character's center as he begins to unravel the situation he finds himself in, torn between humanity and extraterrestrial invaders.
OBLIVION's highlight has to be the musical score by band M83. Like Daft Punk's pumped up score for TRON: LEGACY, M83 scored OBLIVION with a thrilling musical accompaniment that takes the film to another level entirely. Joseph Kosinski worked closely with the band to make sure the arrangements fit with his vision and it absolutely does. M83 sends the film to another level much like Claudio Miranda's cinematography. In the hands of lesser craftsmen, OBLIVION would have been easily ignored. But between the direction, visuals, and music, OBLIVION reaches well above mediocrity.
Worst first date ever.
Released in April just before the summer movie season, OBLIVION was a modest success as it grossed almost $300 million worldwide. People may have gone in expecting an action-packed movie along the lines of what EDGE OF TOMORROW looks to deliver, but OBLIVION is a less complicated and more direct science fiction story. There is no deep analysis needed or subtext to discover in OBLIVION. What you see on the screen is what you get. It may not require the deep thinking many had been anticipating, but the movie still delivers as a fun ride. OBLIVION, without Tom Cruise, would not have been worth seeing. But, I am glad I got to.
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