It's always a bit worrying when the press screening for a film is the night before day of release, and reviews are embargoed until day of release (so much for freedom of the press - but that's a whole new discussion). It's also a bit worrying, at least for me, when Tom Cruise's name appears on the posters. I tried not to let these factors prejudice me as I settled into my seat at the IMAX, having been plied with free drinks (an increasingly rare occurrence at press screenings).
Unfortunately, my suspicions were not allayed. This was very much a big-budget, special effects, Tom Cruise sci-fi extravaganza that was essentially all style over substance. It was cliched, stereotypical (both words come from early French printing terms, which I just learnt from QI) and predictable.
Without giving away more than the trailer does, the planet has been rendered uninhabitable after aliens destroyed our moon. Survivors escaped on a giant spacecraft called the Tet, which is waiting off planet before heading to a new planet. Jack Harper (Cruise) is a drone repairman stationed on Earth in an isolated tower with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who serves as a communicator between Harper and their bosses on the Tet. In the now barren landscape, with the occasional recognisable landmark sticking out (a la Planet of the Apes). The biggest obstacle Harper has to face are aliens called Scavs, and a toxic nuclear zone (which, for some unexplained reason is solidly delineated). Harper also keeps having a recurring memory of a time before the disaster, with a beautiful woman, even though he is supposed to have had his memory wiped before taking on the mission.
Not wanting to give away any spoilers, because some of you nay actually want to see it, it is going to be difficult to outline what is wrong with this movie. From little things like, if Jack and Victoria are living in isolation in this high-tech tower, why does she need to wear fancy new high heel shoes? Surely comfortable flats would do, or pyjamas and slippers. Or where is the fresh coffee coming from, with the planet destroyed and everyone else is living on a spaceship? To much bigger questions that cannot be truly logically answered, such as, if the moon is destroyed why is it still not affecting Earth.
The film is filled with tropes borrowed from lots of sci-fi films (again I won't reveal because of spoilers), but the so-called twists don't come as a surprise because they have all been done before and are totally predictable. Basically, you don't care about the characters, and with so few of them on screen, that is a major failing. Oblivious would be a better title.
The vacuousness of the story is made up for by the impressive visuals: a combination of stunning Icelandic vistas and CGI, all shot by the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Life of Pi and Tron Legacy. And it does look spectacular on the IMAX screen.
What is galling is it will probably be a relatively big hit, when the far superior, and original, John Carter of Mars was pretty much universally reviled, and Taylor Kitsch made a much more empathetic and charismatic lead than Cruise.
You are much better off saving your money and coming to see smart, thought-provoking indie sci-fi at our festival at the end of the month.
Oblivion is in cinemas and BFI IMAX now.