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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Oblivion

OBLIVION (Three Stars)

U.S.: Joseph Kosinski, 2013

I think about the end of the world more than I should, and that’s why I may be more susceptible to apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic (and pre-apocalyptic) science fiction movie visions. Oblivion, a stunningly visualized, yet dramatically erratic science fiction film epic about what happens after the Apocalypse, maybe, appealed to me despite some obvious flaws. It’s really two movies anyway: one good, one not so good.. First, it’s the long-lost progeny of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Twilight Zone. (Good.) Second, it’s a Tom Cruise-starring killer thriller space opera about a weirdly fought rebellion on our ravaged earth. (Not so good.)

The 2001-inspired section, thanks to the film’s extremely talented visual artists (which include director/ writer Joseph Kosinski and cinematographer Claudio Miranda of Life of Pi) , is often extraordinary — especially if you watch it, as I did, in the huge screen format, IMAX, and get a chance to feast, full-size, on the movie’s splendiferous vistas. That’s one of its main attractions. Another is the acting (by Cruise, as well as Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko and Melissa Leo, and still another is what may be those allusions to earlier (better) movies — on those space ships and talking red lights out of 2001, those sand dunes out of Lawrence of Arabia, those cloud castles out of Up, those abandoned ruins out of Wall-E, and those moody dreamy interiors out of Solaris.

The second part of Oblivion, which seems to be more conventional, or more big-bucks action movie-driven . is well-cast and well acted, but also both predictable and often befuddling. From the midpoint of Oblivion on, you can guess pretty much what’s going to happen next (or at lest not be too surprised when it does, but it still often doesn’t make much sense. This is one movie I really felt I should see twice, both because I liked the first half, but also in order to piece together the bizarre stuff that was going on in the second half, and, supposedly, why.

The premise is reminiscent of all those Twilight Zone episodes which took place in the (seeming) future, or (seeming) deep space Twilight Zone-ish, and where we‘re watching something rich and strange and often nightmarish, in a world that we can sense is going to change radically — and does.

On a post-nuclear war Earth, cosmic clean-up operator/sky-boy Jack Harper (the name of the Cruise guy this time) and his co-crisp British co-worker/bedmate Victoria Olsen (Riseborough) are two of the last humans left on earth, which is being evacuated for a new residence on the Saturn moon of Titan, after Terra has suffers the ruin and wreckage of 60 years of planetary warfare with alien invaders called the Scavengers. and is now basically a blasted wasteland, with its seas being drained for energy, and with a number of famous landmarks (the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the New York Public Library) poking Planet-of-the-Apes-like, out of the sandy devastation..

Jack and Victoria are located in what looks like a greatest living space on Earth (and undoubtedly is): a Hollywood Hills looking dream home, perched on a pedestal and made of very vulnerable looking glass walls, called (in the press notes) the Skytower. They are spending their last time there, mopping up what’s left of Desert Earth, in anticipation of humanity’s impending exodus, partly from a huge nearby space station called the Tet. Meanwhile, nasty Scavengers, or Scavs, roam around menacingly, even though humankind supposedly won the 60-year war — or so Jack tells us in the opening Blade Runner-ish narration.

Appropriately, after following the orders of the mission’s Hal-like boss Sally (Melissa Leo), Jack/Tom cruises around in the Top-Gunnish cockpit of a combination glider and helicopter called a Bubbleship. He’s also a devotee of rustic hideaways with trees, and ‘60s-‘70s rock n’ roll, and old Earth sports history and literature. He , treasures particularly his reminiscences of the very last Super Bowl, and a sumptuously weathered old hardcover book called “The Lays of Ancient Rome” by the British writer Thomas Macaulay. And, haunted by memories of a beautiful woman with whom he trades dazzled, dazzling looks on the observation deck of the Empire State Building (Olga Kurylenko as Julia), he is about to meet a flock of other characters (mysteriously missed until now), played by Morgan Freeman (Beech, a rebel leader), Olga Kurylenko (Julia, the real beauty), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Sykes, a hothead) and to find out that neither he, the Earth, nor the Scavengers, nor Victoria, nor any of the others. Nor almost anything all, is quite what it seems, even if we’ve seen a lot of it before in other movies. “But soon Jack will realize that he’s not where he thinks he is. Not at all. Jack is paying a visit …to the Twilight Zone.

There aren‘t many movies around as beautiful to look at as the first part of Oblivion, and since pieces of that beauty survive into the more conventional slam-bang second part, it‘s worth a look — though I would definitely suggest that you see oblivion not on a normal screen, but in IMAX. Kosinski displayed a strong visual imagination in the critically bashed Tron Legacy. But this is his show — adapted from a story and graphic novel he wrote, to try to sell (successfully) this movie, and it’s clear he has more emotion invested in it.

Maybe Cruise does too. Oblivion, or at least its first part, gives a hint of the kind of movie — moodier, dreamier — he could try to make. (He might even try, for a change, something dramatic and realistic.) He doesn’t quite triumph over the forced ending — nobody could really, except Morgan Freeman, who, it seems, can survive anything. But the movie has its moments, at least an hour or so of them, and many new pictures don’t have even that much. The Twilight Zone‘s most frequent story formula involved madness or a nightmare that turned out to be real. This one doesn’t quite turn real, or even convincing unreal — in the end, it’s just another Tom Cruise action spectacular. But at least it’s not oblivious to the possibility.


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2 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Oblivion”

  1. Dax says:

    The main flaw was when he was fighting wit the clone and he took his
    Craft to get the medical kit for his wife
    He was wearing the jacket with the number 49 on it
    While his clone had the number 54
    Who appeared at the end of the movie
    With that number

  2. patrick luna says:

    Could someone explain this film to me ’cause I saw it yesterday with two friends and we all paid close attention but when the double-Tom Cruise started appearing ang disappearing – we all had no idea what was going on…anybody know. I’ll bet Cruise don’t know and he played nine different versions of himself.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon