Written & Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman
125 Minutes, 2013
Oblivion is part of what appears to be a new wave of original science fiction. Over the last few years we have seen some great science fiction but up until this year, good science fiction has been sparing. Examples from the last few years include Children of Men, Sunshine, District 9, Inception and Could Atlas. With Oblivion it finally feels like studios are losing the fear of original films. You could argue that Tom Cruise is a studio insurance measure. However, it is Tom Cruise that is taking the risk. He could easily ride the coattails of such cash cows as Mission Impossible, but with Oblivion like Minority Report (2002) he chooses to focus his attention on a heady science fiction that is above and beyond the generalised science fiction that Hollywood usually delivers in such classics as Transformers 1 – 3 and John Carter. For this alone Oblivion gets my recommendation.
Is Oblivion perfect? Not quite. It is very, very good but just misses the mark of being great. The ideas are fantastic, the music is phenomenal and overall the film looks beautiful, plus Olga Kurylenko has a beauty and a sensuality that is so captivating she could make Battle: Los Angeles watchable. So what keeps the film from greatness?
Surprisingly, Morgan Freeman is the weak link in a potentially great work of science fiction. Freeman is a great actor, this cannot be denied. He is a better actor than Tom Cruise. This is also above contention. When Morgan Freeman is interested in the material he is electrifying. This man has the power to break your heart just by lowering his voice. In this film Freeman phoned in his role. It was almost as if he was reading from cue cards. This was a very important character to the film and seeing Tom Cruise bringing his A-Game and Freeman just showing up for work was distracting to the point where I lost interest in the film during Morgan Freeman’s scenes. Forest Whitaker would have taken this role to a whole other level. People can criticize Tom Cruise for his personal life and religious choices til they are blue in the face, one thing that Tom Cruise should never be criticized for are his movie and career choices. Tom Cruise may not be the greatest actor in history but he never fails to give 100% to whatever film he is in. Bruce Willis on the other hand could make any film he wants, yet over the last few years appears mostly uninspired and rarely brings his A-Game. Tom Cruise rarely falters in this department. Therefore, in the end we have a solid science fiction that is close to great but the aim is slightly off. I would recommend seeing this if you love challenging and original science fiction.
In my last blog entry I reviewed ‘Star Trek‘ (2009) and demonstrated that there is more to the film than I and most Star Trek fans initially thought. After writing this entry I began to think about the other films in the ‘Original Film Series’ and how there are aspects of these films that are often overlooked. So I decided to go where ‘No Man Has Gone Before’ I am going to do something that not even William Shatner or Gene Roddenberry could do. I am going to defend Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989).
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is debatable as the worst of the Star Trek films and by all accounts it is quite bad, but it’s bad in a very ambitious way that one has to admire for at least attempting to find God in Star Trek. The effects are by far the worst of any Star Trek film and the story is not without its flaws. Flying into the center of the galaxy to find God may sound like a good idea on paper but is very difficult to pull off and was ultimately a compromised film. While the film was not successful as a Star Trek film or any film for that matter there is still something interesting going on in this film.
For me there are two aspects that set Star Trek apart from any other Science Fiction Series and have made sure it has endured for almost fifty years.The first is the willingness to take on grand ideas, the second is in the surrogate family of the crew. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier taps into both of these concepts.
Star Trek at its best and at its worst is when it is tackling grand ideas that cannot be contained within a simple story. These are ideas that pertain to destiny, asking what it means to be human and how to maintain a sense of morality in a dehumanizing universe. As Stephen Fry pointed out Star Trek is Nietzschean in concept as man is always trapped between his intellect and his instincts. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are the definition of this in their dynamic. McCoy represents Kirk’s emotional core and Spock represents his intellect and Kirk always has to try to balance these two aspects in order to maintain his humanity. This idea was also addressed throughout The Next Generation in that whenever they had diplomatic missions the problems were either that the Aliens were too intellectual and cold-hearted or they were too instinctual and aggressive such as the Klingon Empire story arcs. So at the core of Star Trek are ideas about humanity and this is more important to the legacy of Star Trek than visual effects and plot contrivances. Star Trek V tackles ideas that are grand that they get muddled in the translation to the screen while this leaves us with a deeply flawed film we have a film that is very passionate about these ideas and deserves credit for attempting to be more than the sum of its parts.
What this film really has going for it and what makes it indefinably Star Trek is that this is the first film in the series which brings us back to the family dynamic of The Enterprise Crew and gives us a film that focuses on the bond of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. While Star Trek III and IV began to tap into the emotional connection between these characters and gave plenty of room for great character moments for all of the crew this was the first and only film that returns to the trio and bookended by the family bond that these three characters shared in the Original series but got lost amongst the film series. The camping sequences while as corny as they are, give the audience a glimpse of how far these characters have come and how close they now are after twenty-three years where their mortality is now bearing down upon them. This is also one of the few Star Trek films where we get to see Starfleet Officers off duty. What makes these scenes so good and yet so cringe worthy in their dorkiness is that they are not the cool kids chasing women anymore. They are like the ‘Dorkie Dads’ on their annual fishing trip. These scenes are oddly charming in this way. They return to classic Star Trek while also showing that they have grown and changed. This serves to remind us that they are not just a crew they are a family unit.
TONE OF THE ORIGINAL SERIES
While Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is undeniably brilliant and returns one of the great series villains that no other Star Trek film has ever been able to surpass Star Trek has never about the villain of the week it was always about ideas and the family of characters. Therefore Star Trek V with its bad effects grand ideas and a focus on the relationship of Kirk, Spock and McCoy may actually be closer to the concept of The Original Series than any of the other films. This does not mean that it is a better film than any of the films that surround but perhaps we have been too hard on this flawed but ambitious entry in the Star Trek film series.