Oblivion: 4 out of 10

A key point in the marketing of Oblivion is that the movie is based on a graphic novel. I found this an odd point to brag about for two reasons: I didn't understand how this can be a "plus" in today's movie marketing environment, and I didn't recall seeing this graphic novel before the movie came out. As it turns out, these observations closely tied to my core problems with the movie: the film values form over substance (which is apparently what Hollywood currently thinks about graphic novels), and the film was just as half-baked as the book, which was never actually published (or, for that matter, written).

As befits its (theoretical) graphic novel roots, the movie is visually impressive. Tom Cruise plays a drone repair technician in a war zone, living in a high-tech, luxury-but-sterile eyrie far above the war- and natural-disaster-torn landscape near New York City. The movie delights in the contrast between the technological marvels of his home and the devastated environments in which he works. It's a more empty and quiet post-apocalyptic landscape than we're used to seeing, but it is not sterile. This part was well-imagined, and I can imagine that it connects to its concept art quite nicely.

Unfortunately, these visuals do not quite connect to the underlying story. We are told that the world's water is being taken away in its entirety, and that the devastation is too great for humanity to survive; Tom Cruise even makes a point of bringing home an apparently-rare patch of grass that he found in his journeys. But just a few minutes later, we are shown a beautiful lake-front cabin with lush grass and flowers and trees. The movie doesn't seem to consider this, even though it spends a fair effort on pushing these juxtapositions before.

The story is clearly derivative of a variety of other, better movies - Moon, Wall-E, and The Matrix come immediately to mind - but this isn't necessarily a terrible thing. The problems arise because the film's creators seemed to recognize that the visuals were not enough to carry the entire story, but couldn't come up with any other ways to handle it. The movie is littered with expository voice-overs, explaining the background of the world to us rather than letting us see it for ourselves; this undercuts the audience's willingness to take in what they're seeing and think for themselves. It also offers many opportunities to examine the many damning plot holes. (Really, you've got a network of free-roaming drones, but you can't set up a satellite network so you can continue communication at all hours?)

Still, the movie was generally competently put-together, well-acted, and it had a good soundtrack, so it wasn't all bad. There was probably even a coherent and interesting story to be told here; I'm just not sure that this was the way to tell the story. Perhaps a shorter movie could have provided more focus; a mini-series could have given the time to flesh out the ideas and characters; or maybe an actual graphic novel could have emphasized the necessary plot beats and art without dwelling on the flaws.

Rating: 4 (out of 10)