April 30, 2013
Apparently the summer season for movies
runs roughly from April to July, meaning that while many of us are still in high gear for school, churning out papers and projects, the movie industry is rolling in money made from its blockbusters. But the great part is that the summer movie season is
for blockbusters, which means high-budget action and adventure films and, invariably, science fiction will be on the summer roster
, including Oblivion
, the new Tom Cruise-heavy flick from director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy
The film has been receiving pretty harsh reviews, with 56%/67% from Rotten Tomato
and 54/100 from Metacritic
with a 7.1 out of 10 user-review score. Oblivion
has only been out a week, and regardless of the filmic value of the movie, the special effects hype surrounding it—and probably Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman—have garnered $190+ million
in box office sales. Not bad for a little over a week, already grossing the $120 million budget.
The real question is whether or not Oblivion is worth seeing. I often find that online reviews and ratings of a film rarely reflect how I feel after a viewing or two, and I tend to look more for imaginative value in a movie than I do acting or scripting, which is often what lay critics fall back on when attacking massive blockbusters. If a film sparks ideas, begs questions that could be explored in other ways given the restraint of the movie’s time, then the movie should be a pretty good one. After all, it’s not likely that every movie we see will be a masterpiece, so why verbally smash the living hell out of every film just because it wasn’t a Hitchcock classic? (Not that I’ve ever particularly like Hitchcock…)
That said, I wanted to point out a particularly funny review
by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky posted to Roger Ebert’s website. In the review, Vishnevetsky says of the film,
“If nothing else, “Oblivion” will go down in film history as the movie where Tom Cruise pilots a white, sperm-shaped craft into a giant space uterus. The scene is more interesting to describe than it is to watch. Cruise’s sperm-ship enters through an airlock that resembles a geometrized vulva. He arrives inside a massive chamber lined with egg-like glass bubbles. At the center of the chamber is a pulsating, sentient triangle that is also supposed to be some kind of mother figure. Cruise must destroy the mother triangle and her space uterus in order to save the Earth.”
Someone, it would seem, is either being overreachingly funny, or took 1970s psychoanalysis in film theory class a bit too seriously. The “sperm-ship” looks more like a high-tech, spherical dragon fly or, to pursue Vishnevetsky’s line of humor, at the very least an oddly-rounded phallus.
I do agree however, with several of Vishnevestky’s points, namely the blatant misogyny of the film, but also that the movie is “a wannabe mindbender” that “reaches for profundity” but essentially leaves the audience wanting more of the story of the world of Oblivion than of the movie itself. I won’t give away too many spoilers, other than the sperm-ship and the vulva, so don’t worry.
The film operates on several main science fictional pivots, including cybernetic fiction (seemingly, since minds are “wiped” every 5 years, though this turns out to not be the case), cloning, post-human identity and the android self (including issues of memory transference and the continual self), the unrealized colonization of Titan, robotic apocalpyticism, and probably a few I’ve missed after just one viewing. The movie takes its time building up to one of several climaxes which bring about a better understanding of the truth behind the state of the world and humanity. The ‘reveals’ were never particularly shocking, and the gist of the movie can be figured out a full hour before it ends, at which point the film does become a bit belabored.
But does this mean the movie is bad? In part, yes, since the director and producers failed to recognize the drawbacks to combining so many science fiction ideas into one film, having them realized somewhat awkwardly in great leaps so that the first portion of the film reads like a post-apocalyptic, humans vs. aliens saga, the middle part switches to an enemy-robot scenario, and the film ends with a mixture of all the other aspects listed in the paragraph above. But the complexity of ideas, despite failing to achieve “profundity,” as Vishnevetsky quips, is intriguing—and smart. It is something new; not something exceedingly well done, but something different in its Frankenstein composition.
My greatest complain is that characters besides Tom Cruise’s Jack Harper were not developed. I so greatly desired more from Jack’s relationship with Vicka; her emotional complexities could have become more prominent and better explained. Jack’s fleeting (but intense?) relationship with Julia was, to put it bluntly, silly. It made sense given the context of his character’s history with her, but it also seemed a little to quick to become what it did (sorry, trying to explain without spoilers), as though Kosinski thought Jack needed a proper wifely figure to protect and motivate his actions. In addition, the human survivors are given no attention, other than the few words out of some military men’s mouths and the short sequences with Morgan Freeman. Freeman’s characters makes a sacrifice, it’s supposed to be sad, but it isn’t—there’s absolutely no emotional attachment built up between audience and his character (or anyone else but Jack, Vicka, and Julia).
The problem is Tom Cruise, whose character takes center stage (and more…you’ll know what I mean when you get near the end, or read the Vishnevetsky review) and never gets out of the spotlight. Every character in the movie is focused on his success, his specialness, the fact that he built a log cabin and overcame his clone programming. The women exist to be foil to his semi-emotional Jack; they die or come into the movie or get protected by his sacrifice in order to define Jack Harper. Vishnevetsky wasn’t wrong when he said the movie was misogynist, though I would lay on the psychoanalysis of vulva-A.I.’s and sperm-ships, that’s his Freudian symbolism.
If you have even the slightest interest in the movie, don’t let Tom Cruise dissuade you. The movie is relatively well-crafted, though not air-tight, and the pacing is slow and then jolted from climax to climax. But the imagery, the concepts channeled through the science fictional medium, and, if you’re willing to reflexively think about the idea, the mental value of the film is well worth the $20+ trip to the movies. Note that the film is based on Joseph Kosinski eponymous unpublished graphic novel. It can only be hoped that if and when published, the graphic novel will leaves less to be desired while still retaining the stunning and thoughtful quality one can read into the film.
Don’t let the critic fool you: Oblivion is some new, different in it’s own way. And Vishnetsky’s wrong, “Are you an effective team?” will probably define our pop. culture memory of the film, registering as just as creepy as HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.