Saturday, 13 April 2013



Malcolm Hulke, one-time writer for Doctor Who in the Pertwee era, was once quoted by friend and Who colleague Terrance Dicks: "To write science fiction, all you really need is a great idea. But it doesn't have to be your great idea." Unoriginality is nothing new in SF cinema; it's how it's developed and how it's packaged that counts and you can get away with a hokey plot and someone else's concepts if it's done with a bit of panache and style, and if you've actually added your own cool refinements. And at its worst, it can leave you sitting in the fifth row just muttering "Yup, that's Total Recall....that's a bit out of Phantom Menace....Moon...."

There's a measure of that kind of recognition in Oblivion, the high-budget post-apocalypse epic in which a brainwashed Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough have to maintain the autonomous drone fleet guarding the giant hydrofusion reactor thingies converting the Earth's oceans to energy required to fuel Mankind's voyage to Titan after Earth was all but destroyed in an alien invasion and subsequent nuclear war (as well as the breakup of the moon which triggered earthquakes, tsunamis and further general calamity). But creatures on the ground, which look like the Tusken Raiders out of the first Star Wars and are known as "scavs" (scavengers), have managed to rig up a beacon into space, which attracts an escape craft containing a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who recognises Cruise just as much as he remembers her, which he shouldn't given that he's had his memory wiped....

For all that it's obviously made up of bits and pieces of other movies, though, Oblivion's a lot of fun, which is perhaps odd as it doesn't have much of a sense of humour. Plotwise it's decent enough. The truth about the Scavs and the Tet, the giant inverted pyramid supposedly storing Earth's surviving populace in advance of the great colonising voyage to Titan, is well disguised and well revealed. And it's a pretty good entry in the Cruise filmography. Barring the occasional empty smiley movie like Knight And Day, his movies have been generally solid over the last few years: Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible 4 were both enjoyable action thrillers, and I liked Valkyrie, Lions For Lambs and especially Collateral as movies where he's actively doing a bit of proper acting rather than relying on the Cruise grin. (I didn't like War Of The Worlds, though, and I haven't seen Rock Of Ages.)

It's terrific to look at in terms of the visuals and the sets: the CGI effects are mostly terrific (bar a few towards the end) and the production design for Cruise and Riseborough's sky house is gorgeous: I could quite happily live in a place like that if I win the Lottery. And to the extent that I might even buy the CD, I even liked the music score by M83, described by Wikipedia as "a French electronic/shoegaze band from Antibes". This is obviously of a piece with director Joseph Kominski hiring Daft Punk to score his previous film, Tron: Legacy (which was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, Oblivion's co-composer). In the end Oblivion's scarcely a visionary SF classic, and doesn't do a whole lot that's new, but it's hugely enjoyable, looks and sounds great, and thankfully doesn't pander to the idiot tweenie market. Solidly recommended.


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