"Oblivion" (2013)

Oblivion (2013)
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Running time: 126 minutes

Now Showing this week is Oblivion, directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron Legacy). It has been sixty years since mankind won the war against an invading race of alien scavengers (colloquially referred to as “Scavs”), and Earth is now a barren wasteland. Humanity has abandoned the planet, seeking refuge on Titan, one of Saturn’s largest moons. However, Earth still has some resources that could be of use to mankind, and before leaving they set up some devices to extract them for transport back to Titan. These machines need to be guarded from the remaining Scavs that still infest the planet, and this is done so by a force of weapons drones. These drones are maintained by a small team of two people, Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). Jack and Victoria’s tour of duty keeping the drones in check is very close to its end, however when a spacecraft containing mysterious cargo crashes onto the surface, they begin to question their perception of their mission and the world around them…

I shan’t say anymore for the sake of spoilers. It’s story is one of the strong points of Oblivion; it was a tale that had me incredibly interested from start to finish. Not only is the initial premise an excellent foundation for a story, the mystery that begins to unravel was one that had me guessing throughout the film, occasionally going where I thought it would and often to places that I didn’t see coming! Oblivion feels like a combination of several of the greatest science fiction works of the last few decades, containing inspirations from author Phillip K. Dick, AlienIndependence Day, I Am Legend and many others. These inspirations weren’t all story aspects, a lot of them were design aspects and they all worked together to weave a very thrilling tale.

The only thing Oblivion was missing from all these brilliant inspirations was their thematic depth (okay, maybe not Independence Day!). Without saying too much, Oblivion contains many science fiction elements that link in to what I discussed last week in my review of The Host, specifically when I said that good science fiction has the “ability to create new emotional conflicts that push our human comprehension beyond our real life expectations“. Unfortunately, the film didn’t explore them to any actual depth when it had the opportunity so as to, I presume, not affect the blockbuster flow of the story. I understand why this decision was made, but I feel taking a little more time to focus on these emotional conflicts would have made for a very interesting philosophical side to the film. Certainly not a deal breaker, just a missed opportunity.

Acting wise, the film is acceptable. No Oscar roles here, Tom Cruise performs well as our main protagonist, as does Melissa Leo as the cold mission control operator for the team. I thought Riseborough’s performance as Victoria was a bit hit and miss, she sometimes came across to me as a bit lifeless, which I was hoping was deliberate for some kind of plot twist later, but sadly nothing came of it. But the two main actors carry the film together excellently, and they certainly keep to the ball rolling!

Oblivion won’t be winning any awards. The story is great, but not revolutionary. The writing is decent but nothing special. The acting is good but not memorable. Oblivion is basically just a good dystopian sci-fi story, one that I thoroughly enjoyed and thought about for a good while after leaving the cinema. I would recommend it to everybody; it may not be an Oscar film but it exceeded my expectations!

See you next time!

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"The Host" (2013)

The Host (2013)
Directed by: Andrew Niccol
Running time: 125 minutes

I just want to begin by saying that I think The Host would make for a really awesome episode of Doctor Who. I just couldn’t help but see what The Doctor would be doing throughout the film, what his opinion on certain events would be and what awesome speeches he would give to the humans that are beneath him and his Time Lord glory. But I suppose that speaks to the talent of writer/director Andrew Niccol (of Gattaca and In Time fame) and his ability to craft such enthralling dystopian futures. And The Host is no exception, for the concept surrounding the film is a very interesting one. However, I can’t really give all the credit to Niccol, as The Host is the film adaptation of a novel written by my arch-nemesis Stephenie Meyer.

Yeah, you can tell this was an interesting one to watch!

Now Showing this week is The Host, directed by Andrew Niccol. In an undefined amount of years into the future, Earth has been conquered by an alien invasion. The aliens in question are essentially a pacifist race, calling themselves “Souls”, who survive by inhabiting the bodies of other species. Once they have control of a host, a Soul has access to all of their host’s memories while simultaneously removing the original consciousness of the old occupant. That is, until now. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), a human girl who is a member of a small community of un-assimilated humans, has been captured by a group of Seekers (Soul occupied hosts who find and assimilate the remaining humans) and has had a Soul named “Wanderer” (also played by Saoirse Ronan) implanted into her body. Wanderer, however, gets more than he/she/it (let’s go with “she”, the film characterises it as female) bargained for as Melanie has somehow managed to remain conscious in the back of her mind. The two of them (in one body, it’s kind of confusing) escape the Seekers and head for Melanie’s human hideout. On the way, Melanie and Wanderer battle with each other over the morals of both their species, and Wanderer comes to sympathise with Melanie and her group of survivors. And in true Stephenie Meyer fashion, Melanie has a boyfriend (Jared) back at the camp, but Wanderer develops a fling with another boy (Ian). So essentially there is a four-way love story with only three physical people. My hat off to you Meyer, you’ve outdone yourself!

So as you can see, the premise is kind of complicated to explain. Having two minds inhabiting one body, but only one having physical control over it (unless Melanie is angry enough to catch a brief moment of control), makes for some very interesting scenarios when it comes to the remaining humans interacting with Wanderer. And I have to say, I found the tragedy in such scenarios to be quite touching. If it is one thing I love about science fiction, it is its ability to create new emotional conflicts that push our human comprehension beyond our real life expectations; and having the love of your life trapped in her own mind while an alien creature takes the pilot’s seat is an intense bag of emotions to deal with. The same goes with the situation of Melanie and Wanderer themselves; them both being from opposite sides of a war and sharing each other’s emotions on the ideas of decimating the other’s species, most certainly does have the potential to be such a compelling character drama.

Unfortunately, Melanie Stryder just happens to be the single most annoying character in the whole damn film!

This is both the actress’ fault and the writer’s fault. All of Melanie’s internal dialogue with Wanderer is frustratingly cliched, expositional and just downright boring. Couple that with some of the most melodramatic delivery that I have heard in recent times and you end up with a teeth grinding-ly irritating character. Her voice-over dialogue was at first jarring and then it just became frustrating, neither of which is a good thing. I feel I can safely say that Melanie chiming in in Wanderer’s head ruins every scene it occurs in. The amount of times that Wanderer was interacting with either a love interest or Stryder sibling and was actually exploring the complicated notions of an alien confronted with such human emotions and actually being interesting, all of a sudden Melanie would chime in with an overly airy cry out of the name of whoever Wanderer was talking to, or chastising her for bonding with anyone and I just wanted to scream. I just wanted to tell Melanie to shut the hell up and stop destroying all of the genuine moments in the movie!

Now, I understand that in the book a lot of the writing is of Melanie and Wanderer debating in their heads and I get that they wanted to represent that in the film. But in a book, everyone is a good actor and no one delivers a line badly or cheesily. I believe that Melanie could have been a far more tolerable, and far more powerful, character if they represented her feelings on matters through physicality and/or single word responses to angered situations. I was discussing this with another person and she said that if they hadn’t allowed Melanie to speak the way she did then she wouldn’t have felt like a character and it would have just been Wanderer for the entire film. I suppose in response to that I say that they gave that idea a try, and look how it turned out. Literally anything would have been better than what they went with.

A final criticism: there still seems to be a bit of Stephenie Meyer-ness in the film which is unfortunate. The big offender for me was that Wanderer essentially stops being an insightful alien with lots of knowledge and new “life perspectives” and just becomes a teenage girl who is incredibly focused on finding out what this whole “sex” shindig is. It’s just…disappointing I suppose. I don’t know what more to say about Stephenie Meyer, she clearly has a creative brain but is simply blinded by some unfulfilled lust that it ruins her creativity’s true potential. Which is why The Host should be an episode of Doctor Who, as I have never seen such a compelling show that is almost devoid of sexual exploration and entirely focused on social/emotional exploration. So seriously, Steven Moffat should get on this episode, and who cares that The Host has already been made. I don’t think it’s plagiarism as long as it is put to better use!

Bottom line, I did enjoy the film to a degree. I found the concept interesting and some of the human condition exploring very touching. If it weren’t for the nauseatingly irritating protagonist and overt sexual repression of the original author, I would have said it was a good film. Instead I will say it was a tolerable film. But I will say this in its favour: it is a hell of a lot better than Twilight.

See you next time!