'Oblivion' steals, successfully, from sci-fi greats.


Iriana's Pizza, the eatery one story beneath the Arkansas Times offices, serves a pie called the "sweep the floor," a higgledy-piggledy version of a supreme. That name came to mind while trying to articulate the melange of science fiction classics that appear to have been sausaged into "Oblivion." To assemble this popcorn flick, director/writer Joseph Kosinski appears to have swept up hide and hair from every touchstone in the genre. (Proposed drinking game: Spot an echo of another movie in "Oblivion," take a shot.) A partial list must include "Wall-E," "Independence Day," "Solaris," "The Matrix," "Star Wars," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "Blade Runner," "Moon," "The Day After Tomorrow" — the floor, it has been swept. The result is an "Oblivion" that sticks to your ribs.

If you can't shake the sense you've been here before, well, tell it to Jack Harper (Tom Cruise). He's a technician on a deserted Earth, living in a mod glass apartment above the clouds, whizzing around in a nifty ship that resembles a helicopter crossed with a dragonfly crossed with an iPod. It's 2077, long after aliens attacked Earth and made a mess of the place. Most of humanity has fled to Titan, the moon of Saturn where everyone's holing up now that we poisoned the planet during the war. (The aliens' masterstroke was to blow up our moon, sending earthquakes and ocean floods to do the dirty work down here.) "We won," Jack likes to say, but now the only humans are huddled in a massive space station called the Tet, dangling in low orbit to monitor likewise massive power plants that run on slurped-up ocean water. Those are under constant guerilla siege by the straggling holdouts from the alien war. Jack's job is to repair the aerial drones that guard the power stations and which carry an aspect of ED-209 from "RoboCop" (take a shot). He's half-heartedly looking forward to ditching for Titan.

The milieu Kosinski builds around Jack's errands is one of an omega man (shot) backed by the formidable force of the drones and by his partner, in multiple senses, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). But Jack is haunted by dreams that feel eerily real, as if they pre-date his mandatory memory-wipe. He imagines a strange brunette (Olga Kurylenko) meeting him in New York. Then, as he's out on parole one day, she becomes manifest in an unexpected way. Later on, Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (a.k.a. the Kingslayer, to "Game of Thrones" fans) help fill out the cast.

Even those overall less impressed by "Oblivion" will fall for its aesthetics. The sweeping cinematography (by Claudio Miranda, winner of the Oscar for his work on "Life of Pi") befits an epic — vistas of a planet wasted, seen from purifying heights. The overindulgent synth-score by M83 recalls cheeseball adventure movies from the '80s, becoming an instant guilty pleasure.

Even the leading man has his charms, despite his inherent Tom Cruisivity. He has a certain aptitude for parts such as Jack, a duty-bound action dude who chafes under authority. Jack's a bluer-collar version of Ethan Hunt or Jerry Maguire or the guy from "Minority Report" (take a shot?). Occasionally he has to deploy a puckish boy-smile to get him out of scrapes, even if he did turn 50 on the set of "Oblivion." Mostly, Cruise winds him up and races across the screen. The actor doesn't disappear into his characters so much as they disappear into him. And so what if you've seen him like this before?


Film Details

  • Oblivion

    • Rated PG-13 - Action/Adventure, SciFi/Fantasy
Rated PG-13 · 125 min. · 2013
Official Site: www.oblivionmovie.com
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Writer: Joseph Kosinski, William Monahan, Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt
Producer: Joseph Kosinski, Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Barry Levine and Duncan Henderson
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Melissa Leo


Now Playing

Oblivion is not showing in any theaters in the area.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

  • 'True Detective' season 3 finale recap: Wins for Mahershala Ali, Northwest Arkansas

    Let’s appreciate for a moment what it means to a show like “True Detective” that you can stream TV now. Not simply to tape it, but watch it on devices as small as the pulpy paperback that it has, for many people, replaced. The ability to revisit it endlessly, to fast-forward and rewind and rewatch as easily as Wayne Hays’ memory skates through time. The third season of Nic Pizzolatto’s serial crime drama — destined to be remembered alongside its astonishing, fulgent first season, rather than the boggy, overcomplicated Season 2 — was a television story that skipped boldly between three timelines spread across 35 years, while living firmly in 2019.
    • Feb 25, 2019
  • 'True Detective' episode 7 recap: Penultimate payoff

    The sight of two broad-shouldered black Cadillacs in front of Wayne Hays’ house, and of a chicken tycoon phoning him to come outside, is the cliffhanger from the next-to-last episode of "True Detective’s" third season.
    • Feb 18, 2019
  • 'True Detective' episode 6 recap: Enter the chicken king

    Things are not going well for Tom Purcell, and that’s really saying a lot. Episode 6 of this third season of “True Detective” finds him mad as hell and not taking it anymore, and marks a high mark for Scoot McNairy, who till now has played the grieving father as the embodiment of cuckolded defeat.
    • Feb 11, 2019
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Wakanda for the win

    'Black Panther' is thoroughly, joyously, unabashedly black.
    • Feb 22, 2018

Latest in Movie Reviews


© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation