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Movie Review: Oblivion offers up a tall glass of cold, hard sci-fi

Oblivion (2013) Screenshot - Oblivion Tom Cruise

Dark, serious sci-fi has always been hard to come by in mainstream cinema. If a sci-fi film isn’t brimming with colorful CG creatures and an overblown budget, it’s probably going to sneak in and out of theaters. Films like District 9 and Children of Men are the rare exceptions, and they always leave enough of an impression that the genre never gets completely forgotten. That torch is now carried by Oblivion, a twisty sci-fi drama dense with atmosphere, starring Hollywood darling Tom Cruise.

The year is 2077, and Earth’s last human denizens are left on the planet to repair drones as they draw resources from the planet. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) does the footwork, flying down to the planet’s surface to fix drones disabled by “Scavs,” the last of the aliens that lost the war against humanity. He’s aided by Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his partner and overseer, who watches him from a tower high above the clouds. Jack loves the planet; Victoria can’t wait to leave.

Oblivion

Right from the start, Oblivion makes it clear that things aren’t what they seem. It’s that kind of film that plants a seed of doubt and leaves you guessing throughout. It may deal with some typical sci-fi tropes, but it draws from enough resources that the twists are still unexpected. You’ll have a few ideas, for sure, but that just makes the cocktail Oblivion mixes that much more enjoyable. It isn’t without flaw or a few plot holes, but Oblivion keeps you guessing, engaged, and thinking, just as the best sci-fi should.

What’s even more commendable is the film’s cold atmosphere. Earth has been ravaged by environmental disaster, leaving the odd recognizable landmark among wastelands of dust and rock. What isn’t dead is overgrown. Meanwhile, a shattered moon and an ominous ship known as the Tet hangs in the sky above.

Oblivion

The only things moving for miles are deadly drones. The drones themselves are an intimidating marvel, hovering around with massive weapons and blaring alarms. They’re deadly to excess, leaving even Jack fearful of their unpredictability. Needless to say, there are parallels to our real world drone warfare. Sneaking in a little social commentary is a hallmark of the sci-fi genre, and Oblivion does a good job of drawing comparison without being overbearing.

The mood of Oblivion is in everything from the excellent costume design to the Mass Effect-esque score. It’s easily one of the film’s best aspects, bolstered by solid storytelling and performances. Love him or hate him, Tom Cruise once again gives it his all here, as he always does. Morgan Freeman has never looked cooler, and even Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes an enjoyable appearance.

Oblivion won’t be remembered with the same fervor as those aforementioned sci-fi classics, nor will it drum up the intense opinions Prometheus had, good and bad. It’s simply a well-made, enjoyable, atmospheric film in a genre that doesn’t get enough love in mainstream Hollywood.

Star rating

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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