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Animadversion: Last man on Earth… again

April 21, 2013

After the visually beguiling Tron: Legacy director Joseph Kosinski comes with another sci-fi adventure of monumental size with a colossal star, Tom Cruise, in Oblivion. Apart from Cruise, the film is also accompanied with dodgy narrative and creative calls.

In Cruise’s voiceover we’re told that the Earth was attacked in 2017 by aliens and humanity was close to losing. In one last desperate attempt, nukes were used, which won the war but lost Earth and most of the moon, resulting in catastrophic tsunamis and earthquakes. Some 60 years later, the surviving populace has moved to Saturn’s moon, Titan.

In the captivating first half we are introduced to Earth’s only two inhabitants. One is Jack — a technician and fighter pilot who does routine checks and maintenance on drones that protect a massive hydroelectric station from Scavs (the aliens). His partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) oversees the mission from Sky Tower — their home-cum-command station — and reports to higher command’s Sally (Melissa Leo) in an orbital station called Tet, which sucks the power from the hydroelectric station. Sally also controls the drones that hunt down Scavs and constantly enquires about the effectiveness of Jack and Victoria as a team.

Jack sporting a Yankees cap, and like a dreamer, collects lost items from Earth. He wonders why humanity doesn’t return home when things are beginning to go back to normal.

Jack’s enthusiasm isn’t shared by Victoria. Besides her love for Jack she only lives for protocol. Victoria looks forward to when their mission ends and they rejoin civilisation on Titan — which may happen in two weeks’ time.

And then it happens. Cryogenic capsules fall from space, which Jack rescues regardless of orders, and one of them reveals Julia (Olga Kurylenko) — a girl from Jack’s recurring dreams.

Adapted from Kosinski’s unpublished graphic novel of the same name, Oblivion is beautiful to look at with the contrast of sterile cleanliness and whiteness (outfits, Sky Tower, drones, planes) with the grayness of the devastated world. The film’s initial pace grabs hold of the viewer’s attention with slow deliberation that was topped by the soundtrack by indie techno group M83. The hopes of classic sci-fi fodder were high indeed.

However, the second when Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau appear is when the film goes down the drain. All surprises and clinchers get muddled in poor narrative beats. Where the first half is about a man with brimming emotion, the second half is a soulless wrap up with rush, inconsistent turns and reasoning as sterile as the film’s production design.

The whole cast shines here, but when the material goes South there isn’t much anyone can do. Released by Universal Pictures, Oblivion is rated PG-13. There’s a little romantic sensuality and some action.