Thursday, 11 April 2013

Film Review: Oblivion (2013)

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Joseph Kosinski and Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt
Stars: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko and Morgan Freeman

Why do we go to the cinema? Why do we choose to pay money to sit in the darkened room and watch a film on a giant screen? Sometimes we want to see a cinematic take on a familiar story, but more often we want be transported to a world which can only exist on that screen; we want the escape from our reality and, even for those few hours, forget anything else in our world and let the film makers show us theirs.

Oblivion is such a film. It is a triumph of big budget, state of the art film making where story and spectacle are equally balanced and the result is something which can stand on its own, where so many others blend into one.

This review’s purpose is not to re-tell the plot and spoil the twists and turns which help keep us intrigued from the very first shot (literally so, with the film’s unique addition to the Universal logo) but the synopsis is this: 60 years after a war between Earth and alien invaders, Earth has been left desolated despite winning the war. Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper, one of the few men left between Earth and the Tet, a craft which will soon be used to take what’s left of humanity to a new life one of Saturn’s moons. Needless to say, several complications occur and Jack’s plans will be changed forever.

The above is merely the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’ of Oblivion’s story; a story which started in the mind of its writer/director Joseph Kosinski several years ago. Kosinski, making only his second film here, scored a box office hit in 2010 with Tron: Legacy but Oblivion is his creation through and through and the love of his concept is clear in every frame of his film. In a year which is yet again filled with comic book adaptations, sequels, and popular novel adaptations, Oblivion is something of a rarity. Universal Pictures are, despite the globally pulling power of Tom Cruise and the general appeal of sci-fi, taking a risk with this $140 million production. It’s that rarest of things; an original idea with no previously established fan base.

Tom Cruise is attracted to screenplays which are character-driven, even if they cost $100 million or more, and Oblivion delivers a story which mystifies from beginning to end, never spoon-feeding the plot to its audience. We know the same truth as Jack does every step of the way; when his world gets rocked, so does our. This isn’t the usual BANG BOOM SMASH CRASH BOOM mindless summer farce we’re usually subjected to, where the sight of CGI characters fighting passes for entertainment; Oblivion spends its first hour exploring the desolated landscape and watching Jack go about his daily work of fixing drones. To Jack, this is just normal life, but Kosinski’s screenplay allows the audience to experience these process for the first time alongside the characters and experience the world created here.

We never see the destruction of Earth with skyscrapers crumbling whilst people scream and point because that’s not what Oblivion is about. It’s not about destruction and chaos but rather the continuation of life and the restoration of humanity. Moreover, the film, for the first hour, is relatively action free, but never for one moment dull or boring. When the action comes, it’s spectacular but crucially, it doesn’t drag on and fill minutes of screen time to pander to the under fifteen’s in the audience. It’s a wonder the studio didn’t push for a 3D retrofitted version for the cinema release, but Oblivion’s stunning visuals allow for more depth and texture than any 3D film could hope to achieve. If all films could be made with this vision and look as good as this, 3D should be redundant.

Like all good films, the true enjoyment comes not from the set-pieces alone but from the story which allows the set-pieces to function within it. The two must work in unison, and they do thanks to Kosinski for not a shaky camera or slow motion shot is in sight. He is a director who is in total control of his picture, not the opposite way around, and the action benefits because of it.

Shot on Sony's CineAlta F65 4K camera, the film looks pristine throughout and the design of Jack’s home above the clouds is a set which you wish you could visit just to appreciate all the detail which went into its creation, and equally as impressive are the spacecrafts he flies and the suits he wears. The concepts on display here are far beyond ‘looking cool’ and make for a believable and lived-in reality for these characters. Again, the balance between story and spectacle is stuck.

Stop thinking for yourself verdict: Oblivion doesn’t just benefit from being seen on the biggest screen possible, it demands it. This is a must for the IMAX experience for the combination of picture and sound is sensational throughout. Simply put, Oblivion should be considered the post-Inception benchmark for original big-budget movies.


  1. I could not agree more. I have seen Oblivion twice now, and in its Imax version the second time. I loved the story, and every minute of the movie. I thought it was visually spectacular, and the soundtrack by M83 is just amazing. Never mind all the bad things people have to say about Tom Cruise: he is what he is, and a very decent actor if nothing else. Perfect for the role in my opinion. Would I see it a third time? Yes, tomorrow if I could!!!

  2. Hi,

    Thanks for the great comment, glad you enjoyed the film as much as I did.

    I've also seen it twice now and am not ruling out a third time before long!

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!


  3. I really enjoyed your review of Oblivion. I especially liked your thoughts on how unusual it is to have an original idea get such a big budget these days. I thought Oblivion was a huge success in what it was trying to accomplish. Usually I go to a movie and I'm guessing and assuming what the plot twists are going to be. It was rare for me to be able sit back and enjoy the movie without trying to analyze everything. Just taking in the sights and sounds of such an enormous world. I felt in a several ways i reminded me of the movie Sunshine. Specifically with the score. M83 added extra weight to the story with music they created.

    It is not a perfect movie but it is a thoroughly enjoyable one and being able to see it in IMAX made it that much better

  4. Hi Austin,

    Thanks for the comment; we really appreciate it!

    Glad you liked Oblivion as much as we did!

  5. This is my favorite review so far. You're one of the few people out there who truly understands the importance of immersion and "out of the box". The journey from "our reality" into another, as you described it. That's exactly what someone should do in order to fully enjoy sci-fi at its best!

    As for the film, I loved every bit, too! One of its aspects that I really enjoyed was how the pacing was just perfect, and how we got fed all the remaining information steadily during the film's last scenes, which by the way were outstandingly emotional as well. Such intensity, such vibrant thrills as Jack quoted those lines from the book, and gloriously sacrificed himself. I had tears in my eyes before that, though, when Jack and Victoria took that picture :)

    Beautiful film and beautiful review!

  6. Finally, an intelligent review that appreciates a story being unfolded gracefully. I was immersed and interested every second of the movie.

    I'd agree with the Sunshine comparison, at least up the part where Sunshine reverted to a killer psychopath slasher movie.

  7. Thanks for all the positive comments! We really appreciate hearing from our readers!

  8. Great review and blog. I really enjoyed this film, also good to see an original summer blockbuster.