Around this time last year I was getting excited for the release of Prometheus. A hard science fiction film that promised to tackle weighty ideas. A visionary director. All washed down the toilet in a pretty-looking narrative mess that relied on its characters acting like idiots to move the plot forward. Dumb sci-fi posing as smart sci-fi, and not doing a very good job of it at all. So now I’m wielding somewhat lowered expectations for Oblivion. Again, we have what looks like a more hard science fiction story (meaning there’s no zooming spaceships and laser fights, no Star Wars-ian flights of fancy). And it’s a nominally original story, not a sequel or adaptation or remake (although it does seem to be cribbing liberally from a good handful of sources). But there’s nobody close to a Ridley Scott in the director’s chair. In fact, Joseph Kosinski’s claim to fame before this was Tron Legacy, which nobody exactly remember for its direction.
Oblivion is also noteworthy for the presence of Michael Arndt as one of its writers. Arndt is on-board as the writer for at least one of the approximately nine hundred Star Wars movies Disney has planned, so how he handles this science fiction tale is going to be under tremendous scrutiny by those looking to glean some insight into how he might handle Skywalker and company. Of course, Oblivion isn’t space opera, but that won’t stop people from drawing comparisons. And how the script balances the technological side with the emotional side will give some small indication of what we might have in store in 2015.
The biggest name attached to Oblivion is, of course, Tom Cruise. And while you can bang on him all you want for his couch-jumping, Holmes-divorcing ways, and while his Hollywood star may have dimmed somewhat, I still think he’s a pretty good actor who picks good projects and gives his all in them. Yeah, I hated Rock of Ages, but not because of anything he did, and he clearly looked revitalized in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. And I think it’s kind of cool he took on something like this; he’s shown he’s a bit of a sci-fi nerd, what with Vanilla Sky and Minority Report and War of the Worlds and Scientology.
Having been burned by Prometheus, I can’t let my enthusiasm for Oblivion get too out of hand. Also, some of the early reviews have been positive, but not ecstatic, and plenty have mentioned that derivative feeling I touched on earlier. But hell, if Oblivion can just manage to tell its story coherently, it’ll have it all over Prometheus in my mind. Although it looks like we’ll have to wait for Elysium for a really great hard sci-fi film this year.