Thursday, April 18, 2013
When Joseph Kosinski was chosen a couple of years ago to direct his feature debut, TRON: Legacy, it was met by the masses with a collective, “Who?!?” Rumored to be given the job on the strength of a preview reel he showed Disney execs, one can't help but wonder if that reel was nothing more than updated graphics to the original film after watching his sophomore effort, the Tom Cruise star vehicle Oblivion.
In Oblivion, Cruise stars as Jack, a one-man mechanic crew tasked with preserving the small amount of Earth that is still livable. Along with his partner (both technician and domestic) Victoria, played by English actress Andrea Riseborough, Jack is an inhabitant of Earth circa 2070. Fifty years after a devastating war against alien invaders in which the Earth's governments decimated the planet with nuclear weapons in an attempt to drive the enemy back, Jack is given the task of repairing drones that protect machines important toward the survival of the human race. Waking every day to fix machines that have been incapacitated by the alien enemy, Jack can't help but feel that something is off.
While Victoria is more than happy to continue counting down the two weeks that they have left on Earth before being transported back to the moon on Jupiter where humans now live, Jack still loves his native planet. Growing flowers with soil that is supposedly contaminated; adopting a creek side cabin as a retreat to store tokens of humanity's past; listening to old Led Zeppelin tunes while shooting free throws; Jack has managed to turn a desolated planet into the ultimate man cave.
While on patrol, Jack sees a spacecraft fall from the sky. Upon searching the wreckage, he finds humans locked into hibernation units. While attempting to open said units, drones appear and begin killing the survivors. Stumbling onto the unit holding a woman that he has dreamed about, Jack risks his life to save her from being exterminated. Taking her back to his home to be patched up, they begin discussing the past as Jack knows it, and he is shown that much of what he has been led to believe is in reality a lie.
One of the jokes a lot of folks made when they first saw the trailer for Oblivion was in regards to how much it appeared to be a live-action remake of the Pixar film Wall-E, only starring a human instead of a robot. I must admit, I made the same joke as well, and yet I was still blown away by how similar the two full-length films are to one another in their finished forms. Read the above synopsis again; Kosinski (a co writer of the screenplay as well as director) doesn't just have Cruise growing a flower to give to his love, he also has a killer pop-culture collection. That is just scratching the surface, however.
The comparisons to sci-fi films don’t stop there; the hits just keep on coming! Cruise's character and interactions with others seems to be patterned after Total Recall, while managing to excise that earlier film's misogyny. The portrait of the Earth that we are shown borrows from the Planet of the Apes series, while the drones themselves seem to crib liberally from the visuals and mechanics of the Enforcement Droids from Robocop. I'm not even touching on the most exciting action scene of the film, which depending on how you look at it is either a strong homage or rip-off of the space battle scenes from the original Star Wars trilogy.
Most damning is the constant allusions to Kosinski's debut, T:L. The director bastardizes his own film by liberally borrowing the neon look of the homes and vehicle specs of his only other film, which I'm not sure is an act of desperation or an attempt to keep what he considers his audience happy. At a certain point I found it almost funny, especially when the French electronic band M83 would pop up on the soundtrack. Why not just run a stream along the bottom of the screen that reads, "Sorry, Daft Punk wouldn't return our phone calls this time"?
Perhaps it just boils down to Kosinski bit off more than he could chew by accepting a Cruise pic this early in his career, choked, and vomited up this hokum? It's not that the film is even that bad, it's just a pretty piece of junk to stare at vacantly for 2 hours. When the end credits roll, you will walk out with the sinking feeling that you should have just bit the bullet and bought a ticket for Spring Breakers instead, and to that I say you would be right.