DIR: Joseph Kosinski • WRI: Joseph Kosinski, Gajdusek, Michael Arndt • PRO: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Duncan Henderson, Joseph Kosinski, Barry Levine • DOP: Claudio Miranda • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce • DES: Darren Gilford • CAST: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Given how character-driven science-fiction films are something of a rarity these days, when something like Oblivion comes along, it’s hard not to get swept away with the excitement or hype. That said, Joseph Kosinski – in his second film – is a master of meeting expectations. While Tron: Legacy was something of a beautiful mess, a two-hour Daft Punk music video, it worked on some level. Here, with Oblivion, he’s working with less gimmicks and more story. Set in the not-too-distant future, Earth has been left ravaged by an alien invasion. Although humanity has succeeded in defeating the aliens, Earth is almost uninhabitable and have migrated to an orbiting space station known simply as ‘the Tet’. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and Victoria Olsen (Andrea Riseborough) are the lone remaining humans on Earth, charged with keeping the security drones online which guard huge turbines that sucking up water and other precious resources. Naturally, things take off when Harper is attacked by the few remaining aliens and he witnesses a shuttle fall to Earth that contains a cryogenically-frozen Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko).
The story itself does veer sharply off into science-fiction tropes that you can see coming a mile off. That said, however, the film is so beautifully designed and staged that you won’t necessarily care. The film is thankfully 3D-free, which the director is adamant was his own decision. Instead, you’re treated to huge landscape shots of Iceland, posing as a post-apocalyptic Earth and a clean-cut, Apple-inspired apartment where Cruise and Riseborough live. The film’s attention to design and detail can’t be understated. It’s such a treat to see a sci-fi film where the world seems, for the most part, utterly believable. There’s a real sense that the environment they are in feels and looks real. Indeed, much like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it has that feeling of perfect design and usability. However, like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, it does suffer from a stale and overwrought storyline. As mentioned, the film does become somewhat predictable in parts and some of the dialogue does come off as wooden. It’s not due to the individual performances, rather the dialogue itself simply seems to be going in circles and not moving the plot forward. When it does move the plot forward, it somehow feels forced and written after the fact.
Tom Cruise is, as always, is a delight to watch. Whatever about his personal life / beliefs, he can never be accused of phoning in a performance. It is a little hard to think of him as a blue-collar worker, simply because you’re watching Tom Cruise be a blue-collar worker. His level of stardom is hard to separate from his roles. That said, he works effectively in this and is as convincing as he’s been in years. Andrea Riseborough, likewise, turns in a very competent performance. Fluctuating between ice-cold glares and moments of genuine heartbreak, it’s easy to see why she continues to gain momentum and bigger roles. Olga Kurylenko is decent, if a little understated in her role. Morgan Freeman, on the other hand, is simply window-dressing. He’s capable of far more than his role allows, but he’s simply not given any opportunity to move beyond the narrow parameters. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones fame shows up as Freeman’s right-hand man, but little else. It’s a decent cast, overall and there are some moments where Riseborough, in particular, outshines Cruise.
For the most part, Oblivion is an entertaining science-fiction film that works well. The story itself is somewhat stale, but the power of the imagery presented, mixed with M83’s fantastic soundtrack will block out any qualms you might have watching it. Find the biggest screen and enjoy the first blockbuster of 2013.
Brian Lloyd chats to Joseph Kosinski, director of Oblivion, which is released this week in cinemas.
Oblivion may be the second film by director Joseph Kosinski, but his credits reach far beyond Tron: Legacy. Having directed some of the most widely-known advertising campaigns in the last ten years, including the Halo 3 – Starry Night and Gears of War – Mad World to name a few, it’s clear that Kosinski is on the up and up. Indeed, his second film and he’s already working with Hollywood legend Tom Cruise. ‘Despite the stature he has, he’s extremely collaborative. He has opinions, he has thoughts – why would I not listen to that? Especially when he’s worked with directors I admire, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Michael Mann.’ Kosinski goes on to mention how fun it was to hear stories about these directors, admitting that directors work alone. ‘We never work with other directors, as such. We’re isolated, working on our own projects so it’s really cool to hear about them and how they work.’
Joseph Kosinski, prior to becoming a director, studied architecture and design. Anyone who’s seen Tron: Legacy or indeed Oblivion will remark about the set design and its use of physical objects, as opposed to CGI’d sets. ‘If you’re not interested in design, I don’t know how you work on these types of movies,’ he explains. ‘I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to look like. The skytower, up in the clouds, if you want to look for influences, it’s something like Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.‘ Discussing sci-fi films, I mention Ridley Scott’s use of physical sets in Prometheus, which Kosinski agrees with. ‘I wanted it to be as real as possible. It looks better, the performances are better. On the flipside, as well, there’s a lot less time in post. Compared to Tron, this film had 800 visual effects shots. Tron had something closer to 1,600. Some films are 2,000. A big tentpole film like this that has fewer effects shot helps keeps costs down. As long as you plan ahead, know what you want, it’s a great way to work.’
The film does pay homage to arguably the best era of sci-fi – the 1970s. Films like The Omega Man, Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run and Star Wars are all touchstones for Kosinski, but not as you’d expect. ‘Those influences come when you’re growing. It’s different to watch films after you’ve made a couple. They seep themselves deep inside you, but when you watch them again, they don’t have the same impact.’ Kosinski continues, ‘1970’s sci-fi were far more character-driven, simply because they didn’t have the tools we have. I thought Oblivion was going to be a much smaller film when I started. But the action and the spectacle is in support of the story and the character.’ It’s also notable that the film isn’t in 3D. Considering his debut is oft-considered one of the best films to make use of the technology, why did he not make Oblivion with it? ‘That was my choice, from the beginning. I looked at a couple of different formats, 48 frames. Brightness is really important to me. But with this being a daytime sci-fi, shot in Iceland, I really wanted the images to pop off the screen. With 3D right now, there’s a limitation with how bright it can be. Using Sony’s F65 Camera, it felt like the right choice to capture the detail of the landscapes, it’s very high-resolution.’
Not only is Oblivion not in 3D, it’s based on an original idea. ‘Getting any movie made is hard. An original film at this scale is a big challenge. It’s not that studios don’t want to make original material, but having something that already has an audience is a leg-up. And having someone like Tom Cruise involved is great. And to have him call me was a thrill. I pitched the story to him over an hour and he was immediately taken by the story and the character and it was something he hadn’t seen before. Having him attached gave it momentum.’ The script, written by Kosinski, was also co-written by William Monahan and Michael Arndt. ‘I wanted to work with someone who didn’t work in science-fiction, which is why I went to William (Monahan) first. But I had the sense that one screenwriter wasn’t going to take me to the finish line, because the film has so many elements. It’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s got action. I also worked with Karl Gadsujek, a great writer who I really wanted to work with. And Michael (Arndt) gave it the final pass, who I’d worked with on Tron: Legacy as well. I’m just the keeper of the story, working closely with each of them and it ended up being the right arrangement for it.’
Oblivion is in cinemas from 10th April and stars Tom Cruise, Olga Kurlyenko, Andrea Riseborough and Morgan Freeman.