Film Review – Oblivion (2013)

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Release date: 10th April 2013 / 19th April 2013 (UK/US)

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Starring: Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko

Films based on lesser-known graphic novels (ie the ones that aren’t Batman, Spiderman and The Avengers) can be a sticky thing to handle. Taking a story from a medium based overwhelmingly on visual style and depicted action, and transplanting it into a medium where it is easy to over-depend on visual style and action brought us creations like Sin City, 300 and The Crow. Not necessarily a bad thing, and the fact that this film is directed by the author of the graphic novel on which it as based gives it a good start, but if you summarise the other information you have about Oblivion before seeing it, it starts to become a lot more worrying:

  • Aside from a series of concept images, the GN has never been publicly released despite promises that it will be (info here: http://www.bleedingcool.com/2013/04/12/oblivion-based-on-the-non-existing-graphic-novel/).
  • Many believe it doesn’t even exist as a full GN, but simply an Illustrated Story that was only ever meant for film adaptation.
  • The director’s last film was Tron: Legacy
  • Universal Pictures distribution with funding of $120million.
  • Tom Cruise.

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Just when you thought that you were getting a graphic novel-inspired scifi epic, it turns out you could be on your way to see a bog-standard Tom Cruise blockbuster.

So is your cynicism justified? Unfortunately it is, quite a lot. All of the bad things that Tom Cruise can bring to a film are there – the unnecessary token “I’m a serious actor who can convey emotion” monologue, the “I’m 50 but check me out shirtless” bedroom shot and also what seems to be an absolutely horrendous bike-based reference to Top Gun. If however you can see past all of the bagage which comes with the casting of Tom Cruise, you will find a reasonably rewarding Scifi film – and a very nicely designed and shot one at that.

The $120million budget hasn’t been poured into pointless gratuitous computer graphics, but intricate production design, adventurous and even quirky cinematography, and stunning locations and sets. Although there *is* a large amount of CG in the film, it doesn’t come across like a special effects studio showreel – it’s well done and ventures far into “this is a film based on a graphic novel” territory without being inappropriate. The drone robots deserve a special mention, as the makers have done an impressive job of bringing them to life.

If you’ve watched the trailer, you can probably guess the first few main developments in the plot. There are however more twists and turns which build up quite a few ideas into an elaborate overall story, punctuated with some token Hollywood script requirements. Many of these ideas are quite cliched in mainstream scifi and although I found them borderline tolerable, they will be a cop-out or simple re-hashing together of old ideas to many. And the final icing on our banal-cake is that extra helping of Tom Cruise which is just so difficult to force down. With a different actor in the lead, this may have been able to feel a lot less generic. He can be the right person when carefully cast, but is out of place here.

Overall I wasn’t disappointed with the film, but went into it with very low hopes (standard procedure when dealing with Cruise-related material). It is a visual treat, and (from a technical perspective) a nice example of creative filmmaking. The story will keep you interested, but unfortunately this is for Tom Cruise fans first and everyone else second.

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