It was still April, but 'Oblivion' really felt like the start of the summer movie season. A big-budget action sci-fi movie with a superstar actor at its helm. Looking back on how the summer has played out, we haven't seen many original movie ideas hit the screen. Besides 'Pacific Rim' and 'Oblivion,' the rest of the tent pole summer movies have simply been - for better or worse, the next installment in an already recognizable franchise. Some may point to 'Oblivion' and say, "Hey, that movie reuses storylines from half a dozen other sci-fi flicks." It's true. 'Oblivion' does generously borrow from a vast array of well-known plotlines from other space-centric adventure movies, but at least it never felt like it got bogged down in 2013's sequel frenzy. Perhaps that's why I liked it even more the second time around.
The world has been utterly wasted. Tom Cruise's sternly narrated opening tells us all we need to know. An alien race known as "scavs" invaded Earth. During the course of their invasion, they destroyed the moon and with the moon gone, earthquakes and tsunamis ripped the planet apart. Humans used their nukes. While they ultimately won the war, Earth was no longer inhabitable. Humans built a huge space station to house survivors and are in the process of transporting everyone to Saturn's moon, Titan. A skeleton crew remains on Earth, helping oversee the gathering of Earth's ocean water that will in turn be used to create atmosphere on Titan.
Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are part of the minimal crew that's been left behind. They live in a sweet post-modern skyscraping bungalow complete with a glass bottom pool that would give anyone with acrophobia uncontrollable fits of fear. Every morning, Jack hops in his futuristic chopper and searches for broken down drones, which are used to protect the rigs harvesting the sea water. As we know with any post-apocalyptic sci-fi film, the status quo never stays normal for long.
I hesitate to discuss the movies that 'Oblivion' borrows from or emulates. It's easy to point out similarities here and there, but naming the movies may needlessly give away certain plot points. I'm not here to do that.
The real strength of the movie, besides Tom Cruise's ability to command the screen even during the corniest of scenes ("The last Super Bowl was played right here"), is director Joseph Kosinkis' futuristic flare. I'll admit that the visuals - which were absolutely stunning in IMAX, are a little less impressive this time around. However, the production design still remains top-notch in all aspects. Seeing the moon, shattered on the horizon, frozen in orbit, never gets tiring to look at. The future tech in the movie is just as fun. There is a chase through a series of canyons that is expertly pieced together using the rules of the technological vehicles created for the movie.
The cockpit of Jack's future-copter can pitch, swing, and even face backward. The movie and its sleek design use all of the copter's abilities to create exciting action scenes that feel real. Sticking Cruise and actress Olga Kurylenko in a real spinning gimbal helped create that realistic illusion. The story may be a little stale for some, but the action is well thought out, nicely paced, and especially frenzied when it's supposed to be.
Kosinski brings the same type of Daft Punk-esque soundtrack that he used in 'Tron: Legacy.' The soundtrack is character in its own right, it sets the mood for the movie, driving it into a darker sci-fi setting. It has more control over the movie than you think it might. It makes the action scenes thrive with intensity and makes the overwrought romantic scenes more palatable.
Sure, 'Oblivion' doesn't feel all that original in terms of storytelling, but in a summer where sequels, reboots, and remakes have dominated, it's nice to see something that isn't tied down to a franchise. 'Oblivion' was a fun time at the movies and sometimes - that's all that matters.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Oblivion' is a Universal release. It comes in a 2-disc set. A 50GB Blu-ray is accompanied by its DVD counterpart, which also gives you access to the UltraViolet Digital Copy that comes along for the ride. Universal has provided a slipcover with the same generic artwork as the case.
For those that were hoping for IMAX aspect ratio shifting like 'The Dark Knight,' you'll be disappointed here. 'Oblivion's 1080p picture is framed at a constant 2.40:1. While it doesn't have the full frame IMAX feel during some of the more action-packed scenes, 'Oblivion' still remains a beautiful movie to look at regardless.
Kosinski's technically artistic eye is always present. Take for example the sky home that Jack and Victoria live in. That isn't green screen you're seeing outside. It's a modern take on front projection. Those are real clouds and real sunsets. Many of his in-camera techniques lend themselves to making a spotless high-def presentation. Almost every scene is in stunning clarity, but it never looks un-cinematic.
Detail is mind-blowingly clear. Everything from the tiniest reflection in the sleek futuristic surfaces of the sky home, to the majesty of Cruise's ageless hair follicles. Everything comes across as clear as you'd expect. Even nighttime scenes are perfectly visible. Shadows are natural and wonderfully delineated. I didn't notice any ugly anomalies. No banding. No aliasing. Nothing but eye candy as far as the eye can see.
If you were hoping for a switching aspect ratio Blu-ray, then I'm sorry - this release isn't for you. However, none of the film's beauty has been diminished. If you're looking for a demo-quality disc to show off your home theater system with, then this one is it.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is just as impressive. The electronic techno beat pulses through this presentation like something possessed. It feels (literally feels) like 'Tron: Legacy.' The bass is unmistakable and unforgettable. It rumbles passionately causing complete sensory enjoyment.
The movie's action uses pinpoint directionality. As the bubble ship flies through slim canyons, it seamlessly transports its sound from speaker to speaker creating the illusion that it's flying across your living room. The added side channels provide a wonderfully enveloping ambiance that truly makes the presentation demo material.
Dialogue is always clear, even though this is one of those movies where people dramatically whisper a lot. Rear channels are almost always engaged with some sort of frenzied futuristic activity. Like I said, the LFE is out of control... in a good way. Everything about this audio mix will make audiophiles drool. More demo-quality for your collection.
'Oblivion' does indeed borrow a lot of its plot and twists from other sci-fi movies, but its look is wholly original. Kosinski has a keen eye for putting together a visually lush film. Cruise does exactly what he does almost every time he's asked to lead a film; he nails it. I found 'Oblivion' exciting, beautiful, and rewatchable, which is a lot more than I can say about many of this year's summer films. It comes highly recommended on all fronts. Even if you don't like the movie, the demo material this disc provides is some of the best you'll find anywhere.