Some very minor spoilers ahead
"Oblivion" was quite the spectacle.
That isn't normal for a book, movie or even video game with a post-apocalyptic setting, but the tapestries, backdrops, CG effects and, most of all, the camera work in "Oblivion" breathe life into a film that is captivating in the beginning, compelling (though slow) in the middle and, unfortunately, flat in the end.
The cinematography of the film was better than anything to hit the big screen in a long time. Even when compared to similar high-budget, sci-fi films, "Oblivion" envelops the audience in a surreal, vibrant version of what's left of Earth after a huge war involving the destruction of the moon—and the devastating effects of that alone—changes its landscapes. This visual feat is no easy task considering that deserts and radiation zones are a large part of what's left on the surface of Earth.
See, the story is that an alien invasion threatened the very survival of the human race. In typical fashion, the humans must win no matter the cost. So they fire nukes that destroy the aliens. Unfortunately, the bombs also harm much of the Earth.
On a quick side note, pretty much all of the story's setup is explained right away in the opening scene with a long voiceover, so be ready to pay immediate attention.
The story's main character, Jack Harper (played ably by Tom Cruise, who dominates most of the screen time), must help the humans survive the big exodus into space in search of a new home. Harper is a sweeper of sorts. Large harvesting machines are installed to extract all the remaining resources from Earth, and it's Harper's job to make sure they function properly and are not attacked by scavengers or rogue drones.
Harper gets to fly around in these slick, creative hover vehicles called Bubbleships (mostly because, well, they're shaped like a bubble) as he checks the land mostly desolate and devoid of life. Yet even with that, there is a certain lush, colorful feel to Earth with mountainous regions, hidden valleys and chasms and even the occasional oasis with some greens.
In fact, one of the better characterization scenes involves Harper secluding himself in a secret backwoods area where a shack-type house still stands. Here, Harper brings items like vinyl records and books that he finds and has come to savor. He has some furniture inside and even a half-broken basketball hoop out back. It's here where Harper remembers a little bit of what his life was like before the war.
The camera is almost always on the move, rarely settling down (it's even active in dialogue-heavy scenes). When Harper finds an underground cavern, the viewpoint jumps back and forth between the first-person view of Harper's—whether he's sliding down the rope or being yanked by it after getting his leg tangled—and wide-angle views that give an unsettling feeling of the unseen.
Page 2 of 2 - Later in the film, Harper has a flying shootout with these drones that now are targeting him. He whisks through on a high-speed chase above a river, in between a somewhat narrow passageway by cliffs, and even through some waterfalls. While perfectly distanced for both scope and zoom, the camera flips around as Harper reverses his aircraft, which is easy because the bubble design allows everything to just switch facings and immediately race the other direction. Gorgeous cinematography. Add in, also, that the editing was not overdone. The audience is given time to follow drones in 3-D space as they make calculated moves along linear planes. A few shots even pan to look up from the ground as they fly high in the air. Very clever.
Later in the movie, Harper encounters a group of survivalists (led by underused Morgan Freeman's character, Beech) that flips the script on him. Harper learns something about himself that changes his whole purpose and perspective on what he's doing.
As details of the plot trickle in, though, the story becomes more and more muddied. One bread crumb may answer a couple questions, but several more arise as truths are revealed about who Harper is, why he has the memories he does, and what, in fact, really happened to Earth.
The ending is rushed and even more unclear. The end idea is sort of a hodgepodge of sci-fi clichés. While it wasn't necessarily disappointing, it definitely left a lot to be desired.
Clearly the strength in "Oblivion" lies more with the journey than the destination. While the ride may take a while before it accelerates, it has a beautiful view along the way.
Jeremy Costello is the Gazette Sports Editor and the Gazette Entertainment Guru. Follow him on Twitter @jdotco.