(US - 2013)
Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Written by Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt. Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell. (PG-13, 125 mins)
With his mega-budgeted 2010 directing debut TRON: LEGACY, Joseph Kosinski fashioned one of the best-looking films you'll ever see, a triumph of visual effects and production design that stood as a prime example of CGI done right, even if the story itself was muddled and the film itself released decades past the point of anyone really caring. Kosinski's follow-up effort, OBLIVION, continues to show him as a style-over-substance guy, with its apocalyptic visuals, widescreen vistas and landscapes and its coldly clinical futuristic sets demonstrating a stunningly ominous post-nuke wasteland that you don't really see much on the big screen these days. While this is mostly obviously accomplished via CGI, it's interesting to note that Kosinski's wildly ambitious sci-fi CGI worlds in TRON: LEGACY and OBLIVION feel more real and organic than most of the greenscreen CGI backgrounds you see in contemporary cinema set in the present day. I spend a lot of time bitching about CGI, but its possibilities are limitless when used as part of the story and executed with diligence and care as opposed to existing only as a necessary time-saving and/or cost-cutting measure. Say what you will about Kosinski's abilities as a storyteller, but props where they're due: the guy's made two incredibly beautiful-looking films. Count me as a fan...for now.
TRESPASS) and Michael Arndt (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and the upcoming STAR WARS EPISODE 7) takes its time setting up the story and there's quite a bit of opening exposition required to get the audience up to speed. It's hard to discuss where the story goes once Freeman, GAME OF THRONES' Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (as Beech's right-hand man), and an criminally-underutilized Zoe Bell (visible as another Beech follower but getting no dialogue) turn up about an hour in without divulging some serious spoilers. But for that first hour, Kosinski lets the story unfold very much like a richly detailed novel. Those expecting nonstop action might actually find the first hour a bit dry, but the world-building and visuals work together in ways that should please fans of hard sci-fi. Once the twist is revealed (and most will probably see it coming), OBLIVION turns into a much more standard and predictable action/explosion movie, losing some steam and overstaying its welcome to some extent. At 125 minutes, it could probably lose 15-20 minutes and maybe one or two endings.
TRON: LEGACY , but it's in the same ballpark. Perhaps the biggest surprise of OBLIVION is that it wasn't shot in 3D. It's one of the few films of late where the technology would've been justified, especially in that amazing first hour. In the end, with its standard "Tom Cruise" performance from Cruise and its predictable and extremely derivative story, OBLIVION is little more than really sweet eye candy, but sometimes that's enough. Though at some point, Kosinski will have to work from scripts with a little more substance and originality if he's to reach his full potential as a major genre filmmaker. That is, unless he's content to be the next Paul W.S. Anderson.