Blu-ray Review: OBLIVION


The year is 2077 and Earth has been ravaged by a war with an alien race known as the Scavengers. The invaders struck the first blow by destroying the moon and devastating the planet’s climate. The humans deployed nuclear weapons to defeat the Scavs, but at the cost of rendering Earth nearly inhospitable. The remnants of humanity are migrating to the Saturn moon of Titan. This is all explained with painstaking detail in the opening narration of Oblivion.

Tom Cruise stars as the live-action version of Wall-E, Jack Harper, not to be confused with Jack Reacher. Harper and his partner/lover Vika (Andrea Riseborough) have stayed behind to be the “mop-up crew.” They are tasked with repairing robotic drones that hunt down Scav stragglers and protect massive machines converting Earth’s seawater into energy for the new colony. Both Harper and Vika have had their memories wiped as a security measure lest they be captured by the Scavs. Yet, Harper is plagued by dreams his former life in a teeming New York City and a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko). Unlike his dutiful partner, Harper waxes nostalgic about old Earth and ventures off his usual patrol route. He’s found a tranquil getaway within a hidden valley where he shoots hoops and listens to vinyl records.

During another routine repair, Harper finds a crashed ship that is decades old and carrying several human passengers in stasis. One of them happens to be Julia, the woman from his dreams. When the drones open fire on them, Harper embarks on a quest to discover the truth about the war and his own identity.

Oblivion is the second feature film from Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed Tron: Legacy. Kosinski has proven to be capable of creating stylish sci-fi worlds though he has a weaker handling on story. Oblivion transplants many of those same new age ideas into a stronger screenplay by Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt. However, it is no less derivative. The story is full of Twilight Zone-style twists while paying homage to a laundry list of classic sci-fi films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, The Omega Man, along with recent releases like Moon. Harper and Vika operate in the ruined remains of the Big Apple with the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the ground ala Planet of the Apes. Morgan Freeman appears in an outfit he apparently borrowed from Laurence Fishburne’s Matrix wardrobe. And much like Morpheus, Freeman seeks to open Harper’s eyes to the truth. Even the superb score by French electronic band M83 is reminiscent of Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy.

The movie progresses at a casual pace after a bloated opening overloaded with exposition. This does allow the viewer to feast in the sumptuous visuals crafted by Kosinski, cinematographer Claudio Miranda, and their special effects team. Oblivion was filmed in Iceland and they’ve captured the natural beauty of the pristine landscapes. Though it isn’t a rip-roaring action flick, Oblivion does feature a few well-executed set pieces, one of which sees Cruise flying his sleek airship through a canyon with drones hot on his tail.

It’s no coincidence that Cruise once again takes on the role of a skilled pilot. His Jack Harper isn’t too different from the characters he’s portrayed in Top Gun, Minority Report, or Mission: Impossible. He’s the loyal trooper who eventually bucks authority when it conflicts with his beliefs. Cruise is strong, but doesn’t make much of an impression. Morgan Freeman would have to have a really bad day to turn in a weak performance while Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones and Zoe Bell are underutilized as his followers. Acting accolades should definitely go to Andrea Riseborough who portrays Vika with a heartbreaking vulnerability along with a stern iciness. She’s the best thing in an otherwise lackluster picture, just as she was in Madonna’s half-baked W.E. Melissa Leo has some fun as Sally, Harper and Vika’s command officer, who only appears as a face on a screen. There’s something obviously sinister about Sally’s sunny, down-home disposition.

Video/Audio: 10
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The BD sports a reference quality transfer with crystal clear picture and remarkable details from the reflective surfaces of the bubble ship to the dust caked onto Cruise’s costume. Colors are equally stunning such as the cool, icy blue that dominates the movie to the golden sky of the scenes shot during “magic hour.”

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. The sound packs an impressive wallop. It provides an immersive experience as the bubble ship and drones whiz across the screen; you’ll hear it in your living rooms. There’s also plenty of rumbling during the action sequences.

Extras: 5
The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary track with director Joseph Kosinski and Tom Cruise. This is a straight-forward, but informative listen as Kosinski and Cruise talk about the birth of the concept, Kosinski bringing it to life first as a graphic novel, shooting in Iceland, and many of the film’s themes.

Promise of a New World: The Making of Oblivion is a 5-part behind-the-scenes documentary that looks at creating the world through pre-production and post-production, building the vehicles and sets, filming the action scenes, the CGI, and composing the music.

Rounding out the extras are four deleted scenes and the isolated score from M83. The combo pack comes with DVD, Digital Copy, and Ultraviolet versions of the film.

Rating: 6
Oblivion is certainly worth a look for the eye candy and the aural feast of M83’s score. However, the story is far too familiar to be wholly satisfying.

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