Film Review: Oblivion (2013)

Kosinksi’s labor of love brings us an inspired hybrid of classic and new age sci-fi.

If you’re not familiar with the name Joseph Kosinski, there’s a pretty good chance that’s about to change—and for good reason. He directed the 2010 Tron: Legacy, and he’s the guy who worked on the original Gears of War trailer set to Gary Jules’ “Mad World” back in 2007. His most recent work, however, was on the 2013 film, Oblivion—which he wrote, produced, and directed.

In case you’re not in the loop with the backstory here, Oblivion was originally written by Kosinski as a graphic novel circa 2005, though it’s often been more adequately referred to as an “illustrated novel.”

There’s only one problem with the original work: it was never published.

At least, it hasn’t been published yet. As of this writing, there’s supposedly a text write-up floating around out there with a relatively substantial amount of concept art to accompany it. Some of the artwork has made its way online, but that’s been the most of it thus far. There is still a chance of a future release, however, which would make for an interesting situation—the source material being released after the film, both of which were handled primarily by the story’s original creator.

Okay, so Oblivion had an interesting course to run in its journey from concept to creation; but how is the film itself?

In case you’re not already aware, this is a science fiction film through and through. It’s actually a sort of love child of modern and classic sci-fi—and I must say that it is a beautiful child.

First of all, the film boasts an absolutely gorgeous visual presentation. The effects, the scenery, the camera work—all of it is top-notch stuff. One aspect that I greatly appreciated was simply how tangible it all was. Rather than relying wholly on CGI to create this world, there are a ton of props used.

As in actual, mechanical, hand-built props.

At least, I’m guessing many of them were hand-built. I have no idea, but either way, they were real!

This really adds to an atmosphere that harkens back to the science fiction of yore, but at the same time, it all looks so good. Right away, it reminded me of a much higher budget version of Duncan Jones’ 2009 film, Moon, which is about as high a compliment I can pay a work of science fiction.

The camera work, too, masterfully walks the line between Tarantino-style still shots and those shaky-camera action movies (you know the type). There’s just the right amount of movement going on that it relays tension and throws you into the center of an action scene without obscuring the scene itself playing out or relying on viewer disorientation.

The music is another aspect of this film that I could go on about at length, but I’ll keep it fairly straightforward. As with Tron: Legacy, Kosinski brought in Joseph Trapanese and an outside band—in this case, the French electronic group M83—to craft an original score. Trapanese worked with Kosinski previously on Tron, as well as many other films. Some of his other work includes collaborating with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda on The Raid: Redemption (which is an excellent film with an excellent score, both of which come highly recommended), working on the Bourne orchestral version of Moby’s “Extreme Ways,” as well as contributing to Iron Man 3 and Showtime’s Dexter.

As for this particular soundtrack, it goes above and beyond in setting the mood of the film. It’s very reminiscent of classic sci-fi films and more recent throwbacks, such as the aforementioned Moon and Bioware’s Mass Effect game series. Strange as it may be to say, this film would not have been tied together half as well with any other music running over it.

As far as tying everything together goes, by far my favorite aspect of the film is the aspect that has been the subject of much scrutiny and debate: the story, and the way it’s all tied together.

In short, I found the writing to be nothing short of fantastic.

Initially, I expected to be in for a sci-fi action movie ride with a light mystery to be solved by the end. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised on this front, as the narrative had a few twists and turns to throw my way, and without spoiling anything, it definitely offered a unique perspective on humanity and the concept of a protagonist. Many interesting themes are touched on here, from the early highly uncomfortably blurring of professional and personal lines (which is interestingly struck at again toward the end), to relying too heavily on unreliable technology, to finding a source of contentedness in what you have and where you are.

Perhaps the most surprising thing here is the amount of soul found in the film despite its highly visual nature. It looks great, makes sense, has a very big-picture narrative going on, and still coaxes you into asking yourself the most personal of questions—what is it about a person that makes them who they are? What gives him or her an identity?

I really can’t recommend this film enough. While I like science fiction, I tend to be very picky about the genre—but this is a great film, no matter how you look at it. I understand that this project was likely Kosinski’s baby for many years, but if this story and film are at all indicative of what’s to come—especially as a follow-up to Tron: Legacy, which I enjoyed in its own rite—I’m highly anticipating what this man may have in store for us.

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