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James Dempsey: €120m Oblivion just a reheated mish-mash of every sci-fi cliché in the book

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Tom Cruise starring in Oblivion

Tom Cruise starring in Oblivion

Tom Cruise starring in Oblivion

AFTER seeing the science fiction film that brought Tom Cruise face to face with the Tánaiste and Tubridy last week, you may be left wondering one thing – just how oblivious do the makers of Oblivion think that their audience actually is?

Have you ever seen a science-fiction film before? Think hard on this. Any science-fiction film ever made? Ever?

We’ll start with the basics… something with robots? Or laser beams and lens flares? Some intergalactic space travel? With those Japanese-capsule-hotel sarcophagi that allow pretty NASA space-nymphs, less astronauts more astro-tens, to slumber for decades and awaken both entirely unaged and inexplicably unbedheaded? You know the kind, surely? Movies with alien species bent on the Earth’s destruction? A bit of dystopia too, with the kind of post apocalyptic grunge chic attire that could probably make an A/W spread of Vogue Italia?

You have… well congratulations, you’ve seen Oblivion!

It is perhaps fitting that a movie in which Tom Cruise plays the last man on Earth, a caretaker charged with overseeing the strip mining of the planet’s remaining resources, is a film which plunders every sci-fi trope from every sci-fi movie you have ever seen, and then some.

Oblivion is directed by Joseph Kosinski, an architect turned filmmaker, who also developed the story as part of an unpublished graphic novel. He’s best known for 2010’s Tron: Legacy, coolly regarded as a triumph of style over substance, but with an electrifying score by French electro-duo Daft Punk. With Oblivion, he once again offers a lot of style over substance, but there is no denying just how stylish it is.

The art direction on Oblivion is gorgeous, with the end of the world looking like an Apple store with products that never get smeared. Just where the dwindling populace of the Earth, relocated to the Saturnian moon of Titan following a decimating war with invading aliens, finds the time to produce so many microfiber cloths is a plot strand never quite worked out.

No one can pull off a distressed leather jacket quite like Tom Cruise, and with co-stars Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough (arguably creating the most interesting character out of what is essentially a switchboard geisha), various twists and turns will be explored in a deeply unsatisfying way. But it all looks nice. And the score, from French electro-group M83 this time, while never quite hitting the highs of Tron, carries the film along with it.

In some ways, the casting of Cruise is perfectly apt for this film. For a 50 year-old man, he looks great, and can still hold his own as an action lead. But haven’t you seen him be a lot better in other things? That’s Oblivion’s problem right there – it looks incredible, but you’ve seen it all done before. And better.

Wall*E, check. Silent Running, check. 2001: A Space Odyssey, check. Total Recall, check. The Time Machine, check. Independence Day, check. Star Wars, check. Moon, check. Planet of the Apes, check. The Matrix, check. Solaris, check. There are more, but frankly I’m reluctant to go on. This movie needs to check itself before it wrecks itself.

With Oblivion, it’s extremely difficult to get past the niggling feeling that this is Oblivion: Attack of the Clones. While watching the film, a growing list of movie references will be constantly running through your head. While reconstituting ideas from other movies is the bread and butter of modern filmmaking, there is a palpable sense there that this is homage pushed beyond the point of derivative. Sure, the packaging is great, a triumph of futurist design, and the film is never boring.

But when it costs $120m to rebrand every idea you’ve ever seen in science fiction movies into this bland blockbuster, you probably shouldn’t be left feeling quite so indifferent. Perhaps they should have reconsidered the title.

Online Editors