Movies: Oblivion (2013)

A mish-mash of old standbys like Star Wars and Wall-E (with some shots reminiscent of Dune and Neverending Story), Oblivion is not a bad movie, but it is very standard for its genre.

Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, whose job is to fix drones on the war-scarred remains of planet Earth. The drones defend large power stations that hover over the ocean and extract water that gets converted to fusion power or energy or something. The idea is that all this energy is needed to get remaining humans to a colony on Titan. The film opens with a long voiceover by Jack that explains all this. I can see why the exposition was handled this way, but I always cringe a bit when so much exposition is served up first thing. Any story that requires so much establishing information is, by definition, structurally unsound on its own.

Okay, anyway. Jack works as a team with Victoria. While he goes down from their Cloud City tower to handle drones and fight "Scavs" (aliens who have holed up on Earth after the big war), Vika stays topside to consult with Sally of Mission Control. This control is stationed on a large, triangular Death Star type thing known as the Tet that hovers over Earth. Jack and Vika believe their mission is almost finished and that they'll be free to return to the Tet and jet off to Titan soon.

Trailers gave much of the twists in Oblivion away, so I don't think it's going too far to say that the Scavs are not aliens after all; they're humans who are resisting the Tet. I won't say any more than that in case some of you still plan to see the movie.

Meanwhile, Jack is plagued by flashes of memory of a life on Earth, particularly in New York . . . He is less eager to return to the Tet, and has even gone Wall-E in building a little hidden cabin for himself where he collects Earth artifacts like books, ball caps, whatever odds and ends strike his fancy. Vika seems unaware of his hidey hole.

I spent much of the movie denouncing Drone 166, which I named "Pete" in honor of the same character on Broadchurch. In this case, Pete spent a fair amount of time making a nuisance of himself by popping up and attempting to shoot Jack and his friends on a semi-regular basis.

There are parts of Oblivion that made me wish I'd seen it in the cinema; I think some of it would have benefitted from big-screen treatment. (Note to self: get a bigger telly.) The dialogue was pretty cliché and kind of awful, though. And the plot points were rote; every "twist" was just an old trick, easily anticipated. Still, because I do like movies like Star Wars and Dune and old Creature Shop flicks from my 80s childhood, I could appreciate Oblivion even as I picked apart all its obvious influences. And because I went in with no wild expectations, Oblivion ended up being about as good as I thought or hoped it might be. Nothing more, nothing less. Rather like getting exactly what you order in a restaurant—no delightful surprises, but nothing terrible either. Just a solid, if average, meal.

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