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In Movies & TV Reviews

Tom Cruise stars in "Oblivion," now playing.

Remarkable sights meet routine story in "Oblivion"


"Oblivion," Tom Cruise's first dip into sci-fi since "War of the Worlds" as well as the year's first big blockbuster, may technically be an original sci-fi story, but it's in name only. The movie drives over well-tread ground, but it does so with such visual panache and slick beauty that it almost doesn't matter. Almost.

Cruise, in full-on charismatic brooding mode, stars as Jack Harper (not Reacher), one of the last human survivors remaining on Earth after a war with alien invaders left the moon destroyed and the planet wrecked. While all the other survivors left Earth for a new home, Harper stays behind to serve as a mechanic, fixing the numerous robotic drones ominously gliding around the wasted landscape, hunting alien leftovers called Scavengers.

When he's not fixing drones on Earth, he's spending time in his swanky space pad (complete with pool!) above the clouds with his communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, giving a very good breakout performance). The end of the world has certainly been worse.

While Victoria couldn't care less about their now decrepit planet, Jack can't help but be fascinated. He collects books and items he finds on the surface, and puts them in a small isolated lake house. He's also haunted by a reoccurring dream involving the Empire State Building and a beautiful woman (Olga Kurylenko). It's a dream that becomes a reality when a spacecraft crashes to Earth, and the woman from Jack's dreams is the lone survivor of the landing and an ensuing drone attack.

The woman, Julia, ends up being the key to unlocking the secrets of Earth's past, as well as the secrets in Jack's past – or not-so secrets depending on how many ads or sci-fi movies you've seen. Spoiler alert: It turns out the machine gun-equipped space orbs that communicate in threatening robot grunts and their creepily cheerful boss (Melissa Leo, apparently celebrating her Oscar win two years ago by appearing in random bit roles in action movies like this and "Olympus Has Fallen") who communicates through eerie static might not be trustworthy.

"Oblivion" is based on an unpublished comic book dreamed up by director Joseph Kosinski as a homage to science fiction of the past. All of that looking back, however, comes at the price of delivering much new in the story, which ends up feeling fairly routine. There are plenty of reveals and revelations, but they're familiar and all clearly telegraphed – save for one twist that generously borrows from a certain recent sci-fi critical darling – to the point that the characters always feel several frustrating steps behind the audience.

It doesn't help that the script's pacing is slow, plodding and surprisingly chatty, especially early on when the movie feels the need to explain everything via my archenemy voiceover. The narration becomes even more useless when Cruise explains it all again later in the frame of the actual story.

The voiceover is especially sad because "Oblivion" and the world Kosinski creates (with the help of award-winning "Life of Pi" cinematographer Claudio Miranda) needs no help at all. It's a mesmerizing world of gorgeous detail. A shattered moon hauntingly floats above the desolate, sand-swept planet, while famed landmarks and weathered signs of humanity attempt to stay above the wreckage.

Kosinski captures every fascinating detail, and his keen visual eye doesn't stop at the wreckage. Much like his debut "Tron: Legacy," Kosinski gives his futuristic creations a particular tangibility. The technology – the menacing drones, Jack's bug-like aircraft, Victoria's fancy communications desk and their shiny, modern home – all feel like real objects and equipment. Kosinski really knows how to work with special effects, making the world of "Oblivion" look sleek but also lived in. Mix these elements with the director's beautiful visuals and fluid camera movements, and you have a sci-fi movie that entrances the eye.

The head and the heart? Not as much, but "Oblivion" is like the Frankenstein monster from "Young Frankenstein": made from tired, recycled parts but dressed up nice and eager to put on the Ritz.



Theaters and showtimes for Oblivion
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gbpacker40 | April 21, 2013 at 1:38 p.m. (report)

Went to see this last night and it was a mesmerizing visual experience. The 3 main characters were well developed but the rag-tag scabs could of used more defining. Especially the officer that Cruise has confrontations with. The plot seemed to be a mix of "The Matrix" meets "War of the Worlds." Overall it was worth the money spent and that's about as good of a compliment as I can give.

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