Science fiction is a great genre to experiment in storytelling ideas. Whether it be through surreal imagery (2001: A Space Odyssey), genre blending (Blade-Runner), or any form of socio-political messaging within a futuristic universe (District 9, Minority Report, etc.), science fiction gives filmmakers to opportunity to paint a picture of what humanity would look like and how it would act in drastic circumstances, giving us an inner glimpse of our own being. This may seem like much to expect from a summer sci-fi film, but then again, we did experience Prometheus, Cloud Atlas and Inception just recently didn’t we? It has come to a point where science as a subject in itself is so mysterious, so elusive to the lay human mind that it always brings intrigue and is automatically attractive when coupled with a sense of profundity. When all this is considered, it leaves one completely unsatisfied when a movie like Oblivion never scratches beyond the primitive surface of human imagination.
This movie starts the way most bad movies would usually start, with extensive voice-over narration of personal daily log. The next few sequences are dedicated completely to introducing cool gadgetry and a panoramic view of post-apocalyptic Earth (thank your stars they don’t show a buried Statue of Liberty in this one). The mystery and intrigue the movie builds is in the most juvenile way: flashbacks. Jack (this is what, the 10th time Tom Cruise is given the name Jack in a movie?) tries to piece together vague memories of a woman he was with in New York, but he can’t seem to grasp the whole picture. The film represents another one of those man vs. machine concepts where the totalitarian corporation hell-bent on exterminating all humans is unable to see the “power and heart of human life”…. or whatever. There is no real discussion over the subject, just vague references to it and a monologue here or there rallying everyone up.
I’ll say it pretty straightforwardly… Oblivion is an unimaginative, dry, juvenile, pedestrian and overall ‘dumb’ summer movie. Not ‘dumb’ in the colloquial sense, but ‘dumb’ in the scientific sense of the word; the movie doesn’t say anything. This Tom Cruise vehicle (clearly a vehicle showing it’s mileage) consists of one of the most overused plotlines in history: the hero has vague memories of his past, he’s controlled by a totalitarian corporation and a lower, more primitive power tries to stop the totalitarian entity and the hero must help them. Sounds like Avatar all over again huh? Yes, but this one doesn’t even have the cool scenery, the Animal Planet-esque adventure, or the directorial-engineering ambition or creativity of James Cameron’s movie (of course not because this is a focus group ‘product’ with a hired-hand director). Oblivion is nothing more than a brochure for 2077 Earth stapled to a catalog for new-age technology. It serves no purpose other than what the focus group found in their little study of 18-34 year old males: Cool weapons, good looking women, action and a story dumb enough that you wouldn’t have to exactly multi-task handling your popcorn & soda with your brain.