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A stylish elegy for the future

parvathi nayar
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fast forwardTom Cruise in Oblivion
fast forwardTom Cruise in Oblivion

Adystopian future earth, evil space invaders, oh-so-very-stylish gadgetry… Oblivion samples many tropes from the sci-fi universe, and is worth seeing just for its production values: frame after brilliantly designed fame of vertiginous towers, sleek spaceships and post-apocalyptic earthscapes.

The seamless fusion of director/co-writer Joseph Kosinski’s design brain, Claudio Miranda’s photography and CGI creates more than dazzling visuals — it crafts the elegiac tone of a spare, lonely future.

Oblivion is set in 2077. We learn that the human race was victorious in a battle against deadly alien invaders, but at great cost: Earth was rendered uninhabitable. Mankind has gathered in the Tet, an offworld space station, as the last step in an en-masse emigration to Saturn’s moon Titan.

Tom Cruise puts in a solid, likeable performance as Jack Harper, the technician/soldier who seems to be the last person on earth along with Vika (Andrea Riseborough), his lover and liaison officer with the Tet.

Harper’s job is to monitor the farming of hydroelectric power from the seas to power the Titan mission; and seeing to the upkeep of unmanned drones that are designed to kill the Scavengers, members of the hostile alien race hiding out on earth.

Harper is full of unsettling questions about his life and world — unlike Vika who prefers to do things by the book. Jack and Vika are mere weeks away from heading to Titan themselves, and she doesn’t want to jeopardise their standing as an “effective team”.

Harper remembers little, since he has been subject to a “mandatory memory wipe” as protection, should the Scavs get him. However he has black-and-white memories of a former earth and a beautiful woman — and is understandably confused when the lone survivor he rescues from a mysterious crash turns out, literally, to be the woman of his dreams.

That would be Julia (Olga Kurylenko) a human time-traveller from the year 2017. Playing the other characters in Jack’s story are Melissa Leo, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau — all extremely talented but underdeveloped and underused.

But satisfying sci-fi also needs to ask some of the big questions — who are we, where do we come from, what does it mean to be human — via cool protagonists. To begin with, Oblivion appears to have these elements: at its centre is a potentially thought-provoking love triangle, nicely cast with Cruise, Riseborough and Kurylenko.

However the film’s plot resolutions and narrative arc show Kosinski on shaky ground — if light years ahead of previous film Tron: Legacy . It’s not that Oblivion ’s twists and turns are derivative — the problem is that Kosinski doesn’t yet have the skills to create a wholly different concoction out of his tried and tested ingredients.

That said, on the positive side, Oblivion is a seriously conceived film, and it’s really quite agreeable to have a story set in a new universe that doesn’t scream “sequel, prequel, reboot.” The characters are telegenic and the performances good, there’s a powerful soundtrack by Anthony Gonzalez and M83, and the visuals are extraordinarily sleek. Oblivion is fabulous eye-candy that’s a bit low in nutritional value.

parvathi nayar

Oblivion

Genre:Sci-fi/Adventure

Director:Joseph Kosinski

Cast:Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Morgan Freeman

Storyline:A lone drone repairman on a dystopian future earth attempts to rewrite mankind’s destiny.

Bottomline:Style may win over substance, but it’s serious style, not empty glitz.


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