Based on director Joseph Kosinski’s (Tron: Legacy) unpublished graphic novel “treatment,” Oblivion plays like a patchwork quilt of samples from just about every popular science-fiction movie made since 2001: A Space Odyssey. While Kosinski’s graphic novel concept supposedly predates Pixar’s 2008 blockbuster Wall-E, the similarities aren’t at all subtle, especially with flying drones that look and act so much like EVE that I’m surprised Universal isn’t getting dinged for likeness royalties. And then there’s the issue of the wooden and laconic Tom Cruise being less evocative in his flower-watering lead role than Pixar’s computer-animated robot. All that said, Oblivion is a bit more than the sum of its parts and imminently watchable. Kosinski has real flair for visuals, production design (especially cool ships and that tower thingy Cruise and his teammate work and live in), and action sequences. Most impressive is the seamless blend of CGI with sweeping natural landscapes, a stark contrast to the antiseptic environments of Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy.

1213obl.box.jpgPlot-wise, Earth is barren and largely uninhabitable following a nuclear war to repel invading aliens. Cruise plays Tech 49, Jack Harper, whose memory has been wiped and presumably reprogrammed so he can form an “effective team” with his workmate Victoria (who looks and acts like a Dana Scully robot with a British accent) in order to repair drones whose sole job is to blow the holy living crap out of Scavs, ostensibly the remnants of the defeated alien invasion force. Jack and Victoria are just two weeks of drone repair away from being retired to a human colony on Saturn’s moon, Titan.

After a while, it’s pretty apparent that the Scavs aren’t aliens since the Blu-ray cover shows that Morgan Freeman is in the movie but he doesn’t appear. (Among South Park’s many witty pop-culture observations is that Morgan Freeman’s character is always the one who explains everything in his movies, and so it is here.) Then there’s the mystery woman Tech 49 incessantly dreams about, who one day falls out of the sky and is real. What the movie doesn’t owe to Wall-E it owes to the novels/movies of Philip K. Dick. And like too many recent sci-fi movies, the end game involves shoving a nuke up the bad guys’ backside (Man of Steel and Pacific Rim, I’m looking right at you).

I guess in liking Oblivion more than it probably deserves, I’m giving extra credit for the earnest effort in making a big-budget sci-fi movie based more on ideas than CGI bombast, even if the ideas are pretty derivative. I admire it more for what it tries to do than what it actually accomplishes.

Captured digitally, the image quality is flawless, especially the background plates apparently shot in stunningly beautiful areas of Iceland. Ultra sharp and detailed, and virtually impeccable. The sound design is as extraordinary as the visuals. All of the individual sound elements are distinctive and convincing, surrounds are aggressively engaged at all times, and there’s relentless subterranean bass, superior ambience, and especially explosive dynamic range. This is a reference-quality, show- off-your-home-theater experience. Extras include a commentary with Kosinski and Cruise, an excellent five-part making-of feature, and deleted scenes. Cooler still is M83’s score isolated in 5.1-channel, 24-bit/96-kHz Dolby TrueHD.

Studio: Universal, 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
Length: 125 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko