Monday, 6 May 2013

Cheerfully Oblivious

"For the Greater Good!  Er, I mean, for the giant space tetrahedron!
Yeah, that's it..."

I wasn't sure about Oblivion when I first saw the trailers; it seemed to me too clear an example of a film based around a central mystery the trailer was all too happy to give away.  Still, my curiosity was kindled, so The Other Half and I blew our Orange Wednesday on it, hoping to be surprised by its quality, if not its actual, y'know, surprises.

And actually, it's pretty good.  The design ethic is wonderful, a mixture of the kind of sleek functionality of, say, Minority Report and the strange mixture of curves and lines employed by of all things the Tau Empire from Warhammer 40 000.  Indeed, with all the drones and pulse rifles in evidence, the similarity might not be totally coincidental.  You could go further, actually, and point out that much of the film's storyline - without going into details for anyone not already spoiled by the trailer, there's a strong sense of people dedicating their lives to working for a Greater Good defined by others who may have their own agenda - is somewhat reminiscent of the Tau as well.  Really, though, that's just to note both the Tau and Oblivion focus on the obvious problem of attempting to work for the benefit of all when you're entirely reliant on others to tell you your actions are helpful.

That's not a new idea, but it's often interesting to explore, and Oblivion presents it well.  The central problem really is that damn trailer, though.  It's not so much that it completely gives the game away - there's far too much going on for that - so much that enough is given away that you have enough time to figure the remaining twists out for yourself. The film seems obviously designed to throw so many twists and turns at the viewer that they have no time to catch their breath and figure out what's coming next.  By slowing the pace of revelations, the trailer undermines that strategy significantly.  It by no means ruins the film, but it does lessen it.

The opening narrative is another problem, an exceptionally tedious infodump (Cruise isn't really suited to exposition, to be honest) that explains things that almost without exception are reiterated throughout the film. Indeed, there's even a scene an hour or so in where a new character has the entirety of the status quo explained to them.  The intent strikes me as clear; make the viewer spend the first half of the film playing catch up, so that they've only just found their feet when the rug is utterly pulled from under them.  A drawn-out description of the status quo completely works against that.

Really, this all reminds me of Dark City; a truly phenomenal work of mystery and misplaced expectations significantly hampered by overly revealing trailers and an initial voice-over that explains much of what the film wanted you to discover.  In the case of Dark City, said introduction was studio mandated by those terrified that the audience might be confused - this being the entire fucking point of the film - and I wonder if the same is true of Oblivion.  There is admittedly (small spoiler) another voice-over at the end of the film, so there is at least a cyclic benefit to starting the film off that way, but what's said could certainly be massively pared down.

If you haven't seen this, wait until it comes out on video, and fast-forward through the first few minutes.  The film will make far less sense that way, in the best possible way imaginable.  That way, there's only one problem with the film, which is... (SPOILERS!)

... the idea that a world in which infinite Andrea Riseborough clones run everything could possibly be one in which people don't want to live.

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