Tuesday, 21 April 2015


steven harris really wanted to dislike the latest Tom Cruise film but a strange thing happened...

So you’ve read some of my reviews. You’re preparing yourself for the inevitable vibe of ‘I wanted to like this movie but…’ aren’t you? Well ha! You’re wrong. I wanted to hate this movie. I wanted to hate it as much as I want to hate every movie Tom Cruise has starred in since Collateral. As much as I used to hate every movie he’d been in before Rain Man was released and I was then forced to reassess his rOkayange and capabilities as an actor.

He’s no Dustin Hoffman, obviously, but he’s Tom Cruise and for a good sixteen years that meant I was likely to enjoy his films and to overlook the fact that as a human being he is enough of a dumbfuck to believe in all that Scientology crap.

His last great movie for me was Collateral, not War of The Worlds because, spectacular as it was, Spielberg’s tilt at the H.G. Wells classic is somehow not quite equal to the sum of its parts. You know what you’re going to get with the Mission Impossible movies – things certainly being impossible in terms of credibility but hey let’s feel sorry for American actors because they have to find ways round the problem of not being British enough to ever hope to play James Bond. Cruise’s cameo in Tropic Thunder does make me weep with laughter but these things are hardly up there with his seminal performances in the aforementioned Rain Man and in a fistful of other movies such as Born On The Fourth of July, A Few Good Men, Magnolia and even Minority Report.

And, as I’ve said, the Scientology bullshit is a real drag factor. It’s difficult to imagine anybody as being sane or even as being half-decent conversational company when they believe the mangled prose stylings of a third-rate science-fiction novelist who then turned his substandard fiction into sub-literate ‘religion’. Fuck’s sake, have some respect for yourselves, people. Even Bowie loses kudos for having been interested in this shit during the Thin White Duke years. Then again, the Thin White Duke years mainly consisted of snorting Etna-sized quantities of cocaine every five minutes and talking to cartons of milk which tends to make anything seem plausible, even the lunatic dribblings of a total cunt like Alistair Crowley, eh David?

Sorry, lost the thread a bit there. Which is something that also happens to people who get involved with the ‘church’ of Scientology – they lose the thread of rationalist reality and start believing all kinds of cobblers. And they make some poor movie choices in their late thirties and their forties.

Oblivion, then. Well about time you made a great film again, Tom. I’m not sure I entirely swallow writer/director Joseph Kosinski’s claim about it paying homage to classic 70s sci-fi movies – far too much noise for one thing. All the booms and bangs are a modern, multiplex phenomenon: 70s science-fiction can be relied on to deliver specific things and none of those things are reliant on ear-raping sound-effects. 

They deliver a sense of paranoid certainty that all is not as it appears on the surface which, to be fair, Oblivion does quite well.

They separate a very few individual human beings from the remainder of the species in order to ramp up the tension and add credence to audience suspicion that all will not end well for the chief protagonist(s). The first half of this equation is superbly handled in Oblivion but the end-game is not very 70s at all (more on this later).

The other most discernible leitmotif of the classic 1970s sci-fi film is a growing mistrust of the very machinery upon which humans depend for their continued existence. I don’t mean in a Terminator/Matrix war of people versus machines sort of way, I mean in that disturbingly creepy HAL asserting its sentience over the humans as 2001: A Space Odyssey unfolds sort of way. Oblivion aims for Kubrick eeriness in this manner but falls a little short, settling for visually aping The Matrix itself when Morgan Freeman appears onscreen for the first time to metaphorically offer Cruise the red pill.

The supporting cast is small so arguably 70s in that respect. Unless we’re talking Star Wars in the 70s in which case there ought to be a billion extras in all genius sci-fi. And a giant man in a black body-suit whose voice is dubbed by an American because in reality he speaks like Worzel Gummidge.

I’ll try the supporting cast paragraph again.

The supporting cast includes Olga Kurylenko therefore *reviewer vanishes for some time in a big melty pool of specious and impractical fantasies involving him, Olga, a family-sized jar of Nutella and all of David Bowie’s cocaine*.Now here’s the rub (notice how I’m being good and kind to you and not actually telling you much about the plot as such because you really should watch this film for yourself and not know what’s coming). The ending was not like classic 70s science-fiction at all. Most of the great stuff from that period leaves me in a state of utter admiration for the cast, crew and director but also leaves me with a skin-deep infestation of melancholia and fear for the future of the species.

Oblivion made me cry. Actually made me cry. Because happy. You bastard Kosinski, that’s not in the handbook at all. Tears of joy are only usually allowed if you’re a ten or eleven year old boy watching the Death Star get blown out of the fucking sky for the very first time. Otherwise unease, suspicion and a sense of earnest self-improvement are all I want great sci-fi to make me feel when the credits roll. Until now. I fucking hated it when Spielberg ruined Kubrick’s last film – A.I – by trying this trick of let’s make the audience leave movie theatres with some joy in their hearts. FUCKING HATED IT! So how come you’ve managed to pull off exactly the same type of sleight-of-hand emotional manipulation and I respect you all the more for achieving it, Kosinski?

Actually, don’t answer that otherwise we’ll be here all day digging into how you also got Cruise’s best performances in over a decade out of him.I like Oblivion. More than that, I love it, ok readers? Can I watch something with Statham in it again now please just so I can write the word ‘wanker’ six hundred and fifty times in place of a more meaningful review?

steven harris is adverse to putting his name in capitals because names aren't that important. Also, lower case is sexy. steven writes all sorts of stuff including fiction, poetry, songs, opinion pieces and shopping lists. He does not write on lavatory doors any more. his blog has writing in it and can be located at He lives in Devon with an imaginary cat called Kafka.

Follow him on Twitter as @theplanetharris

Images from IMDB

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