OBLIVION. Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Rated M (Science fiction violence and infrequent coarse language). 125 min.

This futuristic science-fiction movie is based on the Radical Comics novel of the same name by Joseph Kosinski and Arvid Nelson. Kosinski directs and coproduces the film.

During the course of his acting career, Tom Cruise has demonstrated great versatility as an actor. In “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989), he compellingly played a paralysed Vietnam War veteran with an Oscar-nominated performance. He has been an agent with several Mission(s) Impossible, and he was a drug-addicted music idol in “Rock of Ages” (2012). In this movie, he is a comic book-inspired action hero whose task it is to save the world. He rises to the challenge of that role, though the unconvincing ending of the movie manages to sacrifice his super-hero status for romantic appeal.

Ex-Marine Commander, Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), is one of the last remaining humans from the planet, Earth, and he lives in an “abode” floating thousands of meters above the Earth, with his partner, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Earth was destroyed almost entirely by an invasion sixty years previously. It was devastated in the attack by the alien Scavs, and humans “won the war but lost the planet”. Jack patrols Earth below to maintain security. He has the job of repairing the drones, which, he thinks, roam the skies to protect the planet from further attack.

During a search mission, he rescues a mysterious woman, Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko), who he has dreamed about in the past. She is cocooned in a downed spacecraft that lies burning on Earth, and his interaction with her forces him to question what he thinks happened after the invasion. He feels uneasily nostalgic about decaying edifices, like the New York State Building; he responds emotionally to books that he finds in deserted places; and Julia is unsettlingly familiar to him.

There is a resistance group on Earth of survivors banded together. Their leader, Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), captures Jack. Jack had no real memory of what occurred before and learns for the first time that the planet Earth is being controlled from outer space. Memories of what Earth used to be like start to return to him, and with the knowledge he has acquired about the planet and his special skill in repairing drones, Jack realises that the fate of mankind lies in his hands. Insight comes gradually, but he accepts that “Earth is a memory worth fighting for”.

The film is visually exciting, and makes a strong cinematographic feature of barren landscapes, created by the alien’s invasion. Using the haunting terrain of Iceland, the film strongly creates the sense of a civilisation that has occurred in the past and we, like Jack Harper, look back on it, remembering what it must have been like. The desolation of the ravaged planet is eerily beautiful. The special effects are very impressive, as is the movie’s animation, and the aerial combat scenes are spectacular. Cruise takes on the role energetically of a lonely hero, who searches for and finds personal redemption, after his memories have been revived.

There are three things that mark the film as distinctive. First, its story-telling is well integrated into its action. Second, tension is maintained effectively, until the chill of it shows signs of thawing. And third, the visuals in the movie are spectacular. All converge on the theme that the past is something being left behind. In the movie, there is fusion of identities, a mixing of real and unreal, and derivative scenes remind one forcefully of “Hal”, the killer-computer, in Stanley Kubrick’s brilliant “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968).

This is an action-intense movie that is a very impressive sci-fi film. It has a script to back it up that holds the tension, and it is well-produced and acted. Its philosophizing might become obscure, but the film solidly entertains.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Universal Pictures.

Out April 11th 2013.


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