oblivionReleased: 2013
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko

The most derivative film you’ll see this year – damn good though


There’s a debate that rages in literary criticism over how many stories actually exist. Is it, as Joseph Campbell would have us believe, only one – the hero’s journey? Is it Cristopher Booker’s seven basic plots or are there as many as Ronald B Tobias claims – a whole 20? No matter how many narrative arcs actually exist it’s fairly clear that there are very few original stories out there. It’s simply the same old narrative played out in different ways. Or in the case of Tom Cruise’s latest film Oblivion, every single sci-fi story will be played out over and over again in the same film.

Cruise plays Jack Harper, a survivor of the war which has decimated Earth and forced the planet’s inhabitants to seek refuge on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons. He and his partner Victoria are part of a clean-up detail helping to extract the last of the planet’s water supply to aid the operation on Titan. As the couple come to the end of their mission, Jack is plagued by memories of a time before the war and finds his faith tested when he discovers a female survivor of a shuttle crash who looks like the woman in his memories.

The most obvious thing to say about Oblivion and the major complaint I’ve seen on Twitter and in other reviews is that it’s completely derivative of lots of other sci-fi films. Too true – and not just sci-fi, there’s some Little Mermaid and An Affair to Remember in there too. I’m not sure I’ve sat through a film before and actually ticked off in my head each time I see a reference to another film. They went whizzing by at quite a rate of knots – there was Wall-E, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Planet of the Apes, Armageddon and so on. My favourite TV show of the 80s V even made a little appearance. My list is at 12 but others have got plenty more. For lots of people this is A Bad Thing! Not for me though, I really enjoyed the film.

Tom Cruise is still a huge draw for me, he’s full of charisma and is a properly appealing screen presence. I feel secure when watching him that there’s a decent piece of entertainment on screen (we’ll skip over Knight and Day shall we?) Unlike in Jack Reacher, he is ably assisted here by a small but perfectly formed supporting cast. Andrea Riseborough as Victoria brings a real depth of feeling rarely seen in action filled sci-fi. She is neither damsel in distress nor kick-ass heroine, but a complex and very real character.

The bleak Icelandic setting made a great backdrop for a New York destroyed by nuclear war. If you’ve ever been to Iceland you’ll know exactly why it was chosen for filming. Miles upon miles of cold, unwelcoming landscape make a perfect substitute for a world devastated by war.

Some of the effects and cinematography were outstanding but some left me a little cold. The shots of the destroyed moon in particular felt like a painting that was held up over the set, it jarred in comparison with some of the more impressive imagery.

The real question is despite being massively derivative of almost every other science fiction film ever made, is Oblivion fun? Absolutely it is. It’s not particularly original or intelligent and its special effects aren’t ground-breaking but as a thoroughly enjoyable popcorn flick to start off this year’s massively long summer blockbuster season Oblivion more than satisfies.

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