MOVIES

Sci-fi High

Mind-blowing story twists through stunning visual effects

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) encounters insurgency leader Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) on his mission to Earth in “Oblivion,” directed by Joseph Kosinski.
Universal Studios
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Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough, Melissa Leo, Olga Kurylenko

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

Stars: 3 out of 4

Rating: PG-13

Just once, it would be nice to see a movie set in a future where life is peaceful. People are not corrupt and divisive (as in “The Hunger Games”), technology doesn’t determine law and order (“Minority Report,” “I, Robot”), and Earth isn’t a gigantic heap of trash (“Wall-E”). Is this too much to ask? For Hollywood, where conflict equals drama, the answer is definitely “yes.”

In “Oblivion,” which is sleek and stylish with beautiful cinematography and top-notch visual effects, Earth is ruined, and its human inhabitants are nothing to brag about. Aliens called “Scavs” attacked and made Earth inhospitable, forcing humans to relocate to one of Saturn’s moons, Titan. Staying behind on Earth are Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who are responsible for maintaining the functionality of the drones that kill the remaining Scavs. Their contact at headquarters, Sally (Melissa Leo), keeps them on track. Why they need to continue to defend Earth even after people can no longer live there is a question you’re not supposed to ask.

Jack has dreams of the Earth that once was, and of a woman he connected with at the top of the Empire State Building. That woman, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), ominously crashes to Earth in a space shuttle, and is with Jack later when they’re captured by a band of renegade humans led by the wise Malcolm (Morgan Freeman). That’s when Jack begins to question Sally’s veracity and why he’s on his mission.

It takes a full hour to get to Malcolm, and the entire first half of the film is woefully too slow, but there is a level of Meta mind-blowing sci-fi story twisting in the second hour that’s quite enjoyable as it unfolds. Better, it’s not so dense that it takes away from the inherent escapist fun; director and co-writer Joseph Kosinski (“Tron: Legacy”) gives us just enough sci-fi to keep our minds stimulated while our eyes enjoy the show, which results in a nice balance that serves the film well.

And what a show it is! It’s surprising “Oblivion” didn’t open in 3D — the visual effects and production design would really pop in that format. A quick check into the film’s production, however, reveals that Kosinski considered 3D but decided on 4K resolution, which in layman’s terms means a much sharper, clearer and crisper picture than a usual 2K movie screen would deliver (for perspective, most HD TVs have a resolution of 1080). In other words, whether it’s Jack’s home high in the clouds, the aerial battle between Jack’s jetfighter and the drones, or the vast openness of space, every single scene in “Oblivion” looks fantastic.

Credit also to Cruise, who continues to choose daring and provocative projects that might not always be effective, but are always conceptually intriguing. The movie could use more comic relief, and it’s too long and doesn’t have much to offer in terms of new futuristic narratives. However, as Cruise’s films often do, “Oblivion” nonetheless leaves you with the undeniable notion that you got your money’s worth. 

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