No matter what you think about Tom Cruise on a personal level concerning his unorthodox religious and subsequently personal beliefs it has to be acknowledged that the man is an exceptional actor. As a performer he brings his best to any role he undertakes. From the unrecognizable agent in ‘Tropic Thunder’ to the resourceful leader of the impossible mission force Cruise delivers never letting his fans down. No matter what kind of part he assumes he fully commits and deports himself professionally. While this is easy in movies that are exceedingly well constructed the measure of an actor is what he manages to bring to a less than ideal movie. This is demonstrated nicely in his latest movie to his the home video market, ‘Oblivion’. It is one of those films that begins with a fascinating premise but, somewhere along the line becomes derailed unable to regain its focus. Still, the one aspect that makes the movie worth considering is the undeniable energy Cruse brings to the project. I never seem to list Cruise among my favorite actors, which is strange since I almost always enjoy his performance.
The latest niche that Cruise has carved out for career is the action hero particularly within the context of a science fiction story. Even his most famous franchise; the ‘Mission: Impossible’ films, deploy a level of weaponry and sophistication that borders on the realm of Sci-Fi. It may unusual but looking at his career as a whole you’ll notice that Cruise always portrays a resourceful person typically under an inordinate amount of stress and sense of urgency. He manages to pull in the audience by forming a solid connection with the audience that pulls them in the story now longer concerned with the inconsistencies that might otherwise mar the story’s integrity. Again, this is well utilized in ‘Oblivion’. The deviation from science is a chasm wider than usual but ultimately the film has moments of enjoyment, at least to a point.
Set in the not too distant future where earth has been invaded by a race of technologically advanced aliens we referred to as Scavengers, or just Scavs. This nom de guerre was due to their propensity for moving in on a planet, stripping it of all resources and moving on to the next world. The problem that has always existed with this motivation is there are ample quantities of water and various minerals available in the galaxy not infested with pesky biological creatures. There are even clouds of pure ethanol should they want to kick back and relax as those sources are simply harvested. The way the Scavs devise to handle our infestation of their resource depot is to destroy the moon and let the resulting tsunamis wipe out our civilization. I guess they saw the episode on the Science channel, "what if there was no moon". The effects were clearly detailed there.
The aliens were thwarted by the deployment of nuclear weapons. While this defeated the invaders it devastated our ecology rendering most of earth uninhabitable. The remnants of humanity retreated to Titan, the largest moon of the ringed gas giant, Saturn. While probes and flybys have established there is an atmosphere the conditions are far from amenable for human habitation but man science fiction stories have worked around it so we can’t fault the methods employed here. The part of this that is rather incredulous is the power source for the colony is way back on earth. It is generated by huge fusion plants powered by sea water. Monitoring the system is an orbiting tetrahedral space station called the ‘Tet’. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is a drone service technician responsible for the drone that manages the power operation and defends against rogue Scavs. The tower having problems, Tower 49, is located in the northwest region of the former United States. The drones are autonomous but under the control of Sally (Melissa Leo) who resides on the Tet. Jack and Sally have undergone a memory wipe five years ago for security reasons but Jack has dreams about a mysterious woman at the Empire State Building, which places it prior to the war and before he was born. Now he has to venture forth into the radiation zone to discover the truth hidden by the people in authority.
The film didn’t achieve its goals financially falling short of recouping its $120 million budget and failed to catch on with either the criteria community or genre fans. Although the setup was dispatched with better than usual efficiency but once the parameters of the situation is defined and the Sword of Damocles set I place the movie just doesn’t gel properly. Jack winds up rescuing a woman that happens to be the one in his dreams, Julia (Olga Kurylenko) appears when all but forgotten capsule returns to earth. This did lead the story to the mandatory nostalgic visit to a now dilapidated iconic, pre-war location, in this instance the Empire state Building. The main plot becomes more convoluted the typically seen in a summer action blockbuster which has been cited as a contributory factor to the film’s missing its potential. There is a sense of ambition that permeates the production which is in a way darkly ironic. Some much of the effort went into building the premise that by the time it came to pulling the component parts together there was nothing left. It comes down to classic case of all sizzle and no steak. It is a shame though since there was a lot going for it from a traditional science fiction standpoint. As mentioned above Cruise remains the centerpiece of the movie with more than enough charisma to enthrall the audience. When you add the distinctive talents of Morgan freeman to the mix the movie almost manages to break free of its tethers. The director, Joseph Kosinski has only one other movie to his credit, ‘Tron Legacy’. In a similar fashion that movie could not pull itself out from its predecessor’s iconic shadow. I have the distinct feeling that once Mr. Kosinski has the opportunity to expand his experience and solidify his directorial style he will be able to fare much better. The narrative voice was overpowered by the slick look and feel placing the onus of telling the story on the visual effects rather than a strong, humanistic narration.
Making of Featurettes: Voyage - Discover The Bubble Ship, Combat -