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Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Truly original science-fiction ideas are few and far between, at least within the realm of Hollywood moviemaking, so Oblivion scores points for both its premise and its execution—up to a point. And if you’re going to spend two hours with just a handful of characters, they might as well be played by charismatic and attractive people like Tom Cruise, Andrea Riseborough, and Olga Kurylenko. (Their faces even stand up to scrutiny on an IMAX screen!) What’s more, Cruise reaffirms his position as the ultimate Movie Star, completely credible in both his physicality and ability to convey feelings lurking just beneath the surface of that ageless face.

The time is 2077. Earth is no longer habitable, having been plundered and nearly destroyed by an alien invasion. Cruise and Riseborough live in a modernistic structure from which they patrol their perimeter and supervise the drones that protect Earth’s remaining resources from “scavs.” Their memories have been wiped clean, lest they be distracted by an emotional tug or two from their former lives—yet Cruise keeps experiencing dreamlike flashbacks that he can’t explain. Perhaps that’s why he’s a bit of a maverick, disobeying orders from the Big Brother-ish space station called Tet and even from his true-blue partner. This can only lead to trouble, but it also opens him up to discoveries—the kind of forbidden knowledge he shouldn’t be allowed to acquire. 

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Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Oblivion is a handsome, eye-filling movie with striking production design by Darren Gilford and cinematography by Claudio Miranda (who just won an Oscar for shooting Life of Pi). The landscape is as imposing as the sets and props, which include a wonderfully futuristic motorcycle.

The trouble with Oblivion is that its “secrets” aren’t difficult to penetrate,  so the closer we get to the story’s conclusion the less interesting it becomes. I’d say it remains fairly solid up to the three-quarter mark. Measuring (again) by Hollywood science-fiction standards, that’s not bad: the movie held me in its grip and, although it sounds superficial, I didn’t mind looking at its three exceptionally good-looking stars. (Morgan Freeman and Melissa Leo make worthy contributions, as well, though Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has a relatively small and thankless supporting role.)

Director Joseph Kosinski, who gave us the tepid Tron: Legacy, is working here from his own story and graphic novel. Oblivion isn’t bad, by any means, and its faults certainly don’t lie in its impressive physical production. But science-fiction, as much as any genre (and maybe more than most) depends on a great idea at its core, and this one simply isn’t original enough.