Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Film Review: Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) 2013


Everyone analyzing post-apocalyptic cinema seems to interpret the ‘end of the world’ that is shown on screen as symbolic for a fear of a particular contemporary anxiety in an audience.  This has ranged over the years from globalization to Aids, from immigration to terrorism, from UFOs to climate change and most recently financial meltdown. Without spoiling too much about the plot of the film, I think that it is the explosion in ‘big data’ and companies such as Apple and Google that are the symbolic bogeyman that this film is concerned with.

The narrative of Oblivion centers on Jack (Tom Cruise) and Vickers (Andrea Riseborough), a team left on the post-apocalyptic Earth of 2077 with the mission of cleaning up after a war conducted between humans and aliens called ‘Scavs’.  Jack and his crewmate do not know the details of the war as their memories have been wiped; yet they are told that after they have finished maintaining the machinery that will harvest the rest of Earth’s resources, they will join the rest of humankind on a spaceship called the Tet that will transport them all to Titan – a moon of Saturn.  When Jack conducts a routine bit of maintenance one day he meets fellow human survivor Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who then begins to change his perception of the mission that he is on and the causes of the war that he cleaning up after.

The first thing to note is the choice of Tom Cruise to play the charismatic Jack Harper.  Tom Cruise has developed his skills as playing the desperate-man-on-the-edge-of-the-conspiracy through his earlier films such as Vanilla Sky, Minority Report, War Of The Worlds, the Mission Impossible franchise and others, as well as his role as the lead Scientologist on the planet (sorry David Miscavige).  His previous roles as well as his beliefs have honed him brilliantly for this performance. 

(Note – I imagine that other people will try and connect the plot of the film with scientology; if no-one has done it well by the time the film leaves the cinema then I will have a go – for now I don’t want to have too many plot spoilers)

The second thing of interest is the use of New York as the space where (as usual) the apocalypse has occurred.  Throughout the film (as usual) there is direct reference to The Empire State Building, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Statue Of Liberty, The New York Public Library and other famous monuments.  The use of these places has become such a cliché that I suggest that in the future to keep audiences interested filmmakers could chose different settings and create a kind of travelling circus/apocalyptic tourist board in order to show audiences the world (before blowing it up).

The director Joseph Kosinski, who also brought us TRON: Legacy, has teamed up with another electronic music genius to score his new film – this time the electronic shoe-gazer m83.  This gives the film an aura of legitimacy that more aurally sophisticated audiences might feel is lacking from the other films that were shown as trailers before the film began (Fast & Furious 6, After Earth etc.).

The only thing that bugs me about big budget sci-fi films (except for the obvious silliness and action nonsense) is the choice of date for the supposed future action.  Oblivion is released in 2013 and yet the date of the apocalypse in the film is 2017.  That means that by the time it takes for the film to premier on terrestrial TV (or what we have left of it in the UK) the film will already seem out of date.  Is it really worth giving the 2013 audience a small extra edge of anxiety about the next few years of their life if it radically reduces the lifespan of your film…? Or maybe it's a subtle joke about election cycles and the films makers are radical anti-Obamaists...?

What is the appropriate timespan for an Apocalypse film to set for the end of the world?

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