Apr 27, 2013

Oblivion --- the movie

Perhaps you remember a post from last year, a report from Phuket, the Thai beach 'n sex paradise with its empty, black-marbeled multiplex located in the main mall showing Prometheus, the Ridley Scott movie. What a bummer, Prometheus. After Scott's flick I had given up all hope --- what a silly, one-dimensional horror-story clad in sci-fi illustrations and peopled by captains that fly at superluminal speed and then land their space ship manually on visual clues coming from co-crew that happens to look out of the window.

Hi, I'm Tom Cruise. Yes,  I'm pleased to confirm, turtleneck collars are back in fashion.

An easy act to follow, Hollywood must have thought, and yes, Oblivion is better. There's actually a story, a bit too complex for me, perhaps, the story, but just-so for Chang, who relates to movie scripts like wild boar relate to truffels, he is always, always one step ahead of the script (if that's what wild boar are, the analogy is a bit shaky, perhaps). So Chang knows already that something's wrong with Jack Harper, Tom Cruise's character. Jack and coworker/lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are manning this modernistic, nicely appointed, totally airborne watch post, all glass, steel and plastic, a mile high in the sky but otherwise almost looking like Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona pavilion except for the futuristic rounded edges from central casting that have signaled sci-fi since the dawn of time. The watch post also features a swimming pool.

Airborne watch post and helitropic vehicle

Black-marbled multiplex, I forgot. That was Phuket. Now we report from the World Cup Soccer stadium of Jeju, Korea, in whose basement a linoleum-appointed cinema is tucked away behind wildly misparked Hyundais and Daewo's and other Korean marques nobody has ever heard of. The place is noisy in an echo-y sort of way, wear and tear define the overall impression and in particular the floor, but auditorium n°7 is nice and small and practically empty and there's a seat assignment to which Chang, not listening to your's truly, abides by seating us right in front of the only other two people in the audience who promptly change seats and motivate a little connubial bliss between Chang and Michael that dies down quickly when we get awed by the movie's opening imagery.

 Thermodynamically implausible, yet visually attractive energy extraction schemes 

Earth got into some trouble, that's the story, aliens attacked 60 years ago and triggered a nuclear response with planetary inhabitability results. Mankind sort of prevailed but had to move to Titan (the Saturn moon where the ambient temperature hovers around -200° centigrade), although a few humans are left behind to manage some thermodynamically implausible, yet visually attractive energy extraction schemes. Plus, there are still pockets of resistance of some surviving aliens who have to be kept low by humankind  and these really mean-looking drones. And there's some larger spaceship around, the Tet, which hovers above the horizon like an inverted pyramid and serves as a bridgehead between us and Titan. Sally (Melissa Leo), the officer in charge of Jack & Victoria, is based on Tet  and stays on top of things via a wall-mounted Skype-type display that suffers from static interference as if this were a 1950's TV show.

Victoria ("We are an effective team")

"Are you an effective team?" Sally always asks Victoria who always answers "yes" until she (Victoria) finally answers "no" and starts to cry (wait). So Victoria stays in touch with Sally while Tom is off doing his own stunts and cruising around in this really funky helitropic vehicle & repairs drones & has daydreams about a girl with wide cheeks and big eyes he once met near the entrance of the Empire State Building.

The wide-cheeked, big-eyed girl

Plus, Jack has secretly built himself a hideaway where trees (the planet is otherwise devoid of flora) grow next to a pond (water) and where he has stacked a small collection of leatherbound books (books!) by McAuley and Charles Dickens and has an iconic picture of Andrew Wyeth hanging on the wall that must be worth millions, and an analogue phonograph playing the score composed by M83. Jack listens to the score, and we listen to the score, and all of us arrive at the conclusion that the music is really the worst part of this production. And then night falls and Jack returns to the airborne cubus where Victoria has dinner ready and the swimming pool accommodates a round of tasty midnight sex (expect more poolsex in Hollywood's near future). One really wonders why Victoria is so eager to go home.

Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise

Then the story gets kind of fuzzy, but Chang explains to me that the pockets of alien resistance are really pockets of human resistance, and nothing is what it seems, except for Morgan Freeman perhaps, who has played chieftains before and is now leading his Mad-Maxian tribe in an unequal fight against these mean-looking drones. To wit: the drones hover aggressively above the ground and always roll their shoulders prior to engaging their weapons. They also wince their mean red eyes and point laser beams at their targets. That's their wont, you might say, that's what drones do, but cinematographically it's really sexy.

A drone; judge yourself

Lets cut corners now. The wide-cheeked, large-eyed girl we've met in Jack's daydreams (Olga Kurylenko) falls out of the blue sky, literally, and then falls in love with Jack, Romeo&Juliet style ---  better even, they've been in love all the time since they've been married all the time, a fact eradicated from Jack's brain-washed memory (whence the title, Oblivion). It turns out, Jack and Victoria are mere instruments in the hands of the alien forces that actually won the war and are running Tet and are exploiting the planetary energy resources for unclear reasons and invented the Titan story to keep the humans happy although one wonders 'why bother' because all the humans, take this, all the humans are clones, even Jack is a clone, the only exceptions being (1) the wide-cheeked girl who spent her time in space hibernating before crashing back to earth at the right moment, (2) Sally, the officer in charge, who's just a computer-generated mirage, and (3) the Mad-Maxian tribes.


What's next? Well, (a) Jack and the wide-cheeked, large-eyed girl have to procreate, because our Jack (clone number 42, the script keeps the numbers mercifully short) will die in a heroic act; so (b) Jack and  the wide-cheeked, large-eyed girl  have a brief romantic session at this hideaway next to this pond; (c) Victoria becomes aware of this and cries and tells computer-generated Sally that she and Jack are no longer an effective team; (d) more complications arise, giving rise to more beautiful shots of dystopian landscapes and vicious fights between clones and Mad-Maxian tribes.

More complications

(e) Morgan Freeman gets hurt but stays around because his engineers have prepared a nuclear device that he and Jack will now deliver to Tet where they do their martyr thing in an Independence-Day inspired turn of events (BOOM), and (f) a happy ending ensues since Tet is toast, the aliens are history, and there are so many clones of Jack around that one of them, number 52, fits the wide-cheeked, large-eyed girl just fine and serves forthwith as replacement for heroic Jack number 42. "Marriage" --- recall Immanuel Kant's oft-mistranslated definition of marriage --- "marriage is a community for the reciprocal use of sexual properties."  Curtain.

When you finally write this up and think it through, you can't help but conclude that a fabricated story has been draped around cinematographically contrived  images and over-compensated talent (the word superstar has gone out of fashion). But it's fun while it lasts.

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