Saturday, May 11, 2013

Oblivion review; a visually stunning film, with very little substance

A few years ago, an up and coming director named Joseph Kosinski was awarded a coveted job.  Directing a sequel to a cherished film, that was released nearly 30 years earlier.  The sequel he directed?  TRON Legacy.  Don't get too excited.  I saw the trailers and was jazzed, couldn't wait to see it.  But after walking out, I realised I actually hated the film!  Fast forward a few years and now Kosinski follows up his directorial debut with Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko.  What if there was a war on Earth, a war mankind won.  But the outcome of that war would force us to move to another planet?  Well, this film asks that question.  Let's go!

What I liked about the film:
Production Design/Special Effects
The movie takes place in the distant future.  The world as we know it is gone, reduced to nothing but rubble.  A war on Earth has forced humans to move to another planet.  Production Designer, Darren Gilford, did an incredible job!  This is actually a reteaming of sorts, as he worked with Kosinski on TRON Legacy.  Another fun fact: this isn't Gilford's first dive into the future of mankind.  He was also the production designer on Idocracy, a Mike Judge film that explains how dumb humans will be in the future.  Anywho, back to this film.  The buildings, the transportation vehicles, the various landscapes, and the CGI are among the best I've seen in a long time.  Lightwave International provided the special effects, and they are something to behold.  These aspects of the film may be worth the cost of admission alone.

Tom Cruise
I.  Love.  Tom Cruise.  There I said it.  I am a huge fan of the actor.  I rarely see a film of his where he doesn't give it his all.  Whether he's a spy (Mission Impossible), or a Civil War hero (The Last Samurai), I believe he can do it all.  I will be careful not to give anything away.  But I will say this... his character, Jack Harper, is a curious, and gentle man, who was taught how to be lethal.  Cruise has some great scenes where he has no dialogue.  His eyes and facial expressions do all the talking.  That is powerful stuff and I really enjoyed those scenes in the film.

The music in the film is inspiring.  Anthony Gonzales and Joseph Trapanese co-composed the film.  Trapanese also worked with Kosinski on TRON Legacy's score.  The music told a story on its own.  A story about the future, man's will to survive, and so on and so on.  It just had one great track after another.  The music in Oblivion sounded awfully familiar though.  As if Hans Zimmer's nonexistent twin, merged the scores for Inception and The Dark Knight Rises to create this.  This is not a knock on the co-composers, but the similarities can not be ignored.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

What I didn't like about the film:
A Very Thin Script
I'm going to be blunt.  It was ALMOST a clever, original story.  Karl Gaidusek and Michael Arndt wrote a very thin script.  By the end of the film, it turns out it is nothing more than a stupid story that steals from many sci fi films before it.  The movie has aspects of Source Code (more on that in a moment), The Matrix and I Am Legend; all rolled into one hot mess.

SPOILER ALERT: Towards the third act, we discover that there are multiple clones of the Cruise character.  Well, that aspect of the film makes sense on paper, but Kosinski didn't translate it well into his story telling.  There was too much left for the audience to wonder, that there was no real PUNCH to that plot twist.  It just casually came and went.  I didn't like this at all.  END SPOILER.  I was very disappointed in the script.

I really enjoy Olga Kurylenko's acting.  I think she is a talented, beautiful woman.  And she does well in this film.  But her character has nothing to her.  This is a tiny tiny spoiler; but she is the love of Cruise's life.  They have a long and storied history.  We BARELY get to skim the surface of that love.  This is by no means Kurylenko's fault, more so the writers.  Same goes for Morgan Freeman.  The man is an Oscar winning actor.  He can do anything!  Yet we learn nothing about his character.  Why not dive deeper?  Who was he before 'the war'?  How did he get to where he is now?

Then there is Oscar winning actress Melissa Leo.  Poor Melissa Leo.  This woman hit a homerun in The Fighter.  And she hase barely recieved any roles since.  Was it the F-bomb in her acceptance speech people?    No spoiling here, but she is restricted to a desk the entire film.  What the hell?  Remember how I mentioned Source Code earlier?  Again, no spoiler here... but she is essentially the same character as Vera Farmiga was in that.  Giving orders from behind a screen, sitting a desk the entire film.  Ugh, why even take this role?  Let's get Melissa Leo more work people!  And with all that being said... Who cares what happens to any of these characters, if after 2 hours, we still don't know anything about them.  Just a terribly scripted film.

Dear God are there some excruciatingly slow scenes in this film.  The first act travels at a snail's pace.  NORMALLY, a film slows down for character development; well trust me, this film does not do that.  It's slow for no apparent reason.  I didn't feel like it was slowing down to build suspense or tension.  It was just slow to be slow.  Then acts 2 and 3 rip by very quickly.  Inconsistent at best.

The Verdict:
What Could Have Been...
The title to my TRON Legacy review was: "TRON Legacy review, Too Bad, Too Too Bad".  I feel the same way here.  The movie was good in my opinion.  The production design and special effects are A+ quality.  Tom Cruise is his usual great self.  Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko and Melissa Leo brought some real star power.  But what is the purpose of a film?  To tell a story!  And while Joseph Kosinski's intentions were good, he again missed the mark.  I think it is a MUCH better film that TRON Legacy, and Kosinski is definitely maturing as a storyteller.  But he has a ways to go before I can call him a good director.    If you haven't already seen the film, wait for the Blu-Ray.  You wont regret the wait!

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