Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Oblivion

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

Produced by: Joseph Kosinski
Peter Chernin
Dylan Clark
Barry Levine
Duncan Henderson

Screenplay by: Joseph Kosinski
Michael DeBruyn
Karl Gajdusek

Story by: Joseph Kosinski

Based on: Oblivion by Joseph Kosinski

Starring: Tom Cruise
Olga Kurlyenko
Andrea Riseborough
Morgan Freeman
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Melissa Leo

Music by: M83

Cinematography by: Claudio Miranda

Editing by: Richard Francis-Bruce

Studio(s): Relativity Media
Chernin Entertainment
Monolith Pictures
Radical Studios

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): April 10, 2013 (United Kingdom)
April 19, 2013 (United States)

Running time: 124 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $120 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $286, 168, 572

Alrighty, just so you know (unless unfortunate circumstances intervene, heaven forefend!) this is going to be a proper review. A couple of days ago, I completed a review for Texas Chainsaw, and the fact is is that I went off my rocker when Blogger had a glitch, and instead of writing a review, I proceeded to use the thing as a vent for me to rant and rave. While I do not apologise for my complete and utter lack of professionalism in that regard, I do however seek to rectify this lack of a review for Texas Chainsaw, and though it is a movie I don't have any particular passion or inclination to want to review, that is what a critic is supposed to do! With all of the other crap going on, what it being Oscar season and that I'm cramming a lot in to catch up with the year of 2013, there'll be a lot going on, so, as ever, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie for review is the science fiction film Oblivion. A big-budgeted ($120 million), post-apocalyptic epic, the movie didn't tank at the box-office, but certainly under-performed, and it's critical reception has been mixed at best. That said, you want to have a look at a review from someone who thinks very highly of it, go no further than my good friend at Danland Movies, who considers one of the best films of the year, and whose review I will put a link to at the bottom of this one. The film is directed by Joseph Kosinski, based on an unpublished graphic novel by himself and Arvid Nelson, which he now describes as merely "a stage in the project." Quick synopsis, minus spoilers of course (which Universal have done a great job of concealing); the year is 2077, and during a war with alien invaders known as the Scavengers, though the war was won, the Scav's destroyed the Moon, causing an array of natural disasters, and as a defence measure, nuclear warheads were detonated on Earth to cull their invasion, but it left the planet more or less uninhabitable. On Tower 49, Tech 49 Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his parter/lover Victoria 'Vika' Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) work as a team that keeps in operation the drones that defend the planet's fusion power stations. However, things are shaken and go awry when Jack rescues a woman (Olga Kurylenko) from a pre-invasion spacecraft that has crash-landed on Earth and appears to be the same woman who has been haunting his dreams of a better world. Comprende? Good!

To start with the good, the principal actors here are uniformly on fine form. Tom Cruise is great in the lead role as Jack Harper. It's interesting that over the years (and when I say years, I mean, like, thirty), Cruise has played a sort-of ever evolving everyman; he just has this sort of quality in his acting which ensures that he is the most subtle of screen chameleons, able to tweak his performances around whatever part he is playing. His Jack Harper is a character that suffers from an ennui, searching for a meaning in his life, and as the film progresses and it enters territory of an at times rather existential nature, Cruise steps up to the plate in a performance wrought with humanity and emotion. Although I'm sure there have been plenty of articles trying to link the movie to Scientology (those who slander Scientology like that should shut up, because if the same things were to be said about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism etc., they would be considered intolerant bigoted anti-theists!), but whether you agree with Cruise's personal life or not, he's still one of the finest actors of this or any generation. There are also three other strong performances in supporting roles. I was once again impressed with Andrea Riseborough's acting talents in her performance as Vika. Someone who just goes from strength to strength, despite the fact that Vika is in many ways the third leg plot wise amongst the characters, it doesn't become a rooting contest between her and Kurylenko. Even though her character is a company woman, if you will, we can feel Vika's pain as she does these things, and it is Riseborough who ensures that this doesn't just become a disposable character. Speaking of Kurylenko, she too gives a good performance. Like that of Riseborough, her character could have been disposable female material (as unfortunately, I feel that a lot of writers tend to neglect good female roles), but she does inject a level of passion into the role. Finally on the acting front, the mighty Morgan Freeman, who could make The Yellow Pages sound like something of great profundity, shows up and brings the movie some real gravitas. If anyone is there to tell the protagonist that everything surrounding him is based on fabrication, then Freeman's the man to do it convincingly. To say other good things about Oblivion, I have to address the overall mise-en-scene, which is one of the most beautifully realised worlds I have seen in a film from 2013. It is a big-budgeted movie, but unlike many other movies with that amount of dollar in it, Oblivion is a movie made by people who respect the level of craft and dedication all involved, and it's there onscreen. Although there aren't a huge amount of physical sets, which are wonderfully designed, we get a sense of the sheer vastness and scale of the movie through the intelligent use of immersive visual effects, which are more seamless and work in cohesion with the 'real' design work. From a technical standpoint it's on the a-game. Claudio Miranda, who won an Oscar last year his work on Ang Lee's Life Of Pi, does a lot to make the movie look as good as possible, giving it a really beautiful sheen and crisp quality. Also, Richard Francis-Bruce is an editor with a great understanding of his craft, and Oblivion displays, at its best moments, a true sense of pace and rhythm to the way it moves. The action scenes in the movie, though largely bloodless, are highly intense thanks to Francis-Bruce' work. The original score too by M83 is something noteworthy. Though as a band their aesthetic is oftentimes to work with electronic instruments, they take to traditional film scoring rather well. The score is full of little things operating both as a part of the larger piece and also of their own accord, certain individual instruments (a synthesiser melody, the depth of the reverb off of the drum beats) doing their thing, and yet there is a merging that ensures that it is all part of the same atmosphere. More musicians outside of the schools of traditional film composition should be involved in film scoring, and M83's work is proof of that. Finally (on the good front), whereas with Tron: Legacy he was more or less directing Steve Lisberger's creations, here he is directing his own and establishes himself as someone to watch. With all the contingent elements going on here, Oblivion could have been a disaster that destroyed his young and promising career, but I think he mostly succeeds here. It's directed with confidence and precision, and at it's best moments, Oblivion had me thinking that this was something very Phil Dickian (to coin a phrase), good old paranoid science-fiction. It's nice to see that there are filmmakers out there willing to do something with science-fiction films the likes of THX 1138, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, Silent Running and Westworld, and while not perfect, Oblivion is a solid exercise that keeps up that tradition.

As you've gathered from that, I had a lot of good things to say about Oblivion, and indeed, I feel that many critics will revise their opinions on this movie as the years go by. However, it reminds me in a way of Danny Boyle's Sunshine, in that there is so much good going on here that it's a shame to have to point out flaws, but like that film it is not without them. I know it's an easy (and oftentimes my usual) target when picking at a movie, but the script for Oblivion has a number of issues. Written by Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt (as Michael DeBruyn), while the two have a strong base, it does at times feel like a short movie stretched out into a two-hour feature film. Most of the time I was able to buy it, but as a whole it is way too long. One of the most refreshing things about Gravity was the ninety-minute running time, which, while still being by all means an epic film, was watertight to the gills and had no space to move. With this film, my brain did tend to do a fair amount of wandering, not really focusing on the picture, not just because of the running time, but also because despite all it's beauty and splendour, the plot had some predictable elements. Please tell me you didn't see where this thing was going a mile off when Freeman shows up and delivers his monologue(s) to Cruise, and the plot becomes the plots, with the core story being surrounded by a wider picture, which is just textbook screenwriting that could have a title like Love And Death In The French Revolution. Joking aside, it's a shame that it boils down to that, because for all the things that went well with it, I still think Oblivion could have been trimmed to under a hundred minutes and had a bit of thinning out on the story, which got too big for it's boots.

Well, I may have skew-wiffed my review of Texas Chainsaw, but I think I pulled it back on this one. Oblivion is one of those movies that does beg to be seen, whether you like it or not, because it's something that you will come out feeling strongly about, be your opinion positive, negative or somewhere in-between. While I had my problems with the movie regarding the script/story being too big for it's own good and the overlong running time (which make me genuinely sad to say deny it from being a great movie in my eyes), Oblivion is still in many ways a remarkable film. The production value and scale of the mise-en-scene is incredible, beautifully realised by Joe Kosinski, who establishes himself as a legitimate director to watch, while the score by M83 is a fine hybrid that does give it a unique sense of atmosphere. Technically, it's outstanding and it's topped off by a quartet of great performances, particularly that of Andrea Riseborough, who will be a major player over the next ten years, and leading man Tom Cruise, who is just terrific in another of his many fine career performances.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Stoked (I was meant to be stoked with my last review, but no I'm stoked because I'm in full beast mode review wise!)

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