Set on a future Earth, civilization lives above the clouds and scavengers collect ancient artifacts from the polluted surface below. An earthbound soldier, who is stuck there repairing drones that patrol and blast a savage alien life form, encounters a beautiful woman who crashed in a craft and they have an experience that forces him to question his world view.
If you'd have told me at the beginning of 2010 that the most interesting science-fiction films of the coming decade would include two starring Tom Cruise, I would have laughed in your face. Yet here we are, past the mid-point of the 2010s and two of the most inventive sci-fi films we've seen are Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow and this movie, 'Oblivion'. Both are entertaining works of storytelling in a climate where Hollywood is satisfied pumping money into reboots and sequels, and both films stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. Sadly, both movies got slapped with titles that tell audiences little about the movie they're about to see, and both underperformed at the box office (although both did much better internationally than domestically). Still, that doesn't take away from the fact that they're both well-crafted pieces of cinema.
'Oblivion' was directed by Joseph Kosinski, and is based upon his graphic novel of the same name. Except Kosinski's graphic novel (illustrated by Andrée Wallin) was never actually released. It was scheduled to come out in 2012 from Radical Studios, but Kosinski was pitching the idea as a movie when the book was still in development, and once the film got greenlit (thanks to illustrations for the book that were completed), the graphic novel idea was abandoned and all focus was put on the film. That gives 'Oblivion' the distinction of being perhaps the only movie based on a graphic novel that never actually existed.
The movie is set roughly 75 years in Earth's future, after an alien attack has all but obliterated the planet (as Cruise's character, Jack Harper, tells viewers in a voice-over as the movie begins, humans have won the war, but they had to use nuclear weapons to do so). Most of surviving humanity have made their way to a new colony on Titan, a moon of Saturn, but Harper and his assistant Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) have been left behind to monitor the machinery that is collecting and transporting the last of Earth's resources to Titan, as well as keep up on making sure large, circular, and deadly drones are continuing to function. Jack and Victoria's work is being monitored from a large spaceship in orbit known as the 'Tet', where they report daily to a superior named Sally (Melissa Leo).
We also learn early on that Jack and Victoria had their memories wiped before they began their current assignment. That, of course, is a big 'red flag' for the audience that all isn't as it appears to be – enhanced by the fact that Jack keeps having visions and dreams of a young woman (played by Olga Kurylenko), who will show up in Jack's life as the lone survivor of spacecraft crash. Once she appears in the movie, the truth of Jack's background starts to unravel around him.
There are two big 'shocks' in 'Oblivion's storyline, neither of which I will reveal in this review, despite the fact the movie has been out for several years now (believe it or not, this Ultra HD review was my first time watching the movie, so I'm sure there's lots of others out there who have never gotten around to seeing it). The first big reveal of the movie is the more obvious one, and those paying attention to the 'clues' in the movie early on should be able to figure out where the plotline is going. The second reveal I didn't see coming at all (despite the fact that there are plenty of hints in the movie for it as well) and was genuinely surprised at the turn of events.
It's interesting how 'Oblivion' unspools as a movie. When it first begins, not only did I think the story was needlessly convoluted, but perhaps hopelessly so...there's so much exposition early on that I was having trouble keeping track of all the 'world building' the movie needs to convey in a short amount of time to tell its tale. Once it settles in, though, it's amazing how 'human' this futuristic story turns out to be. Credit a huge chunk of that to Tom Cruise, who makes his portrayal of Jack Harper very relatable, so much that even when Jack (and the audience) learn new things about his past that change our perception of the character, we're still invested in him as the hero.
'Oblivion' turns out to be a surprisingly good science fiction film. So good, in fact, I'm sort of embarrassed it took me this long to get around to seeing it. It's the kind of movie I wish Hollywood made a lot more of, and it's one I have a feeling is only going to grow in appeal and admiration as perhaps a bit of a cult classic in the years to come. It's one of Cruise's more admirable efforts in a career full of pretty good performances.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Oblivion' invades 4K Ultra HD in black elite keepcase, which also holds the dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray as well as an insert containing a digital code for both an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase (the back cover is designed slightly differently, but contains the same photos and text) slides overtop. The slipcover is rounded off on the edges, but still covers the entire keepcase.
There are no front-loaded trailers on the Ultra HD disc; however, the Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Fast & Furious 6, Despicable Me 2, Dead in Tombstone, Defiance: Season 1, and an anti-smoking advertisement. The main menu for both discs features a montage of footage from the movie, with the Blu-ray having the more-standard Universal design (with the curved left edge and menu selections running down the left side), while the Ultra HD has menu selections down the left top corner of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free, and – of course – all Ultra HD discs are free of any region coding.
'Oblivion' was shot digitally primarily on RED Epic equipment and is presented here at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 4K version of the movie is an up-convert from a 2K digital intermediate, and has received an HDR pass during its conversion to give the image deeper colors and contrast. Alas, this 4K image arrives on home video with a bit of debate about whether the 4K picture is actually any better than the previously released 1080p Blu-ray, which was pretty much a reference quality transfer for the format.
There's no doubt that the 4K image's HDR update has provided the movie with some lush – and at times quite beautiful – colors. Most noticeable are the deep greens that can be seen when the characters of the film visit the parts of Earth that haven't been ravaged by the alien war. But what the HDR pass also seems to have done is smooth over (for lack of a better phrase) some of the details that were quite obvious in the original 1080p transfer. While most close-up shots of the actors do look a tad better when it comes to details, wider shots and establishing shots of scenes seem to have lost some of their clarity.
So, unlike many other 4K movies I own, in which there's an overall increase in both color depthness and details, the Ultra HD release of 'Oblivion' asks viewers to choose between a more detailed, sterile image in 1080p (on the Blu-ray disc) and one that is deeper in color/contrast (and honestly, manages to make the movie look a little more like film, despite its digital origins) in 4K. While I personally enjoy the 'warmer' look that HDR provides 'Oblivion', I can't really argue with those who would rather have the razor-sharp imagery in each and every scene that the previously released 1080p disc provides.
To be clear, the 4K disc still looks quite nice overall, but those with only SDR (standard dynamic range)-capable 4K TVs will definitely want to think twice about upgrading, as the HDR colors are really the only notable positive to the 4K disc (unless, of course, you're an audiophile and the real reason you're picking this is for the reference-quality Atmos track, which is covered below).
The 4K Ultra HD disc features an English Dolby Atmos track, which outputs as a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track for those (like myself) without an Atmos setup. After discussing the various quirks with the video transfer, I'm happy to report no such issues occur with the audio. The Atmos upgrade is everything one hoped it might be – providing an immersive, directional, and bass/LFE-heavy aural experience that will really show off one's home theater set-up.
What I love about the Atmos track here is not only is the audio impressive when you'd expect it to be – such as when Cruise's character fires up his bubbleship for take-off early in the movie or when drones are whisking by in the atmosphere – but it places you wouldn't immediately expect it. There's a scene in the first third of the movie where the characters of Jack, Victoria, and Julia are sitting having dinner and it's raining outside their complex. The sound of the rain is so immersive – from the front, sides, and rears (and, if you have Atmos, from above), that I actually looked out my window when I first heard it to see if it was raining. When you can't distinguish real-life sounds from those of your home theater system, that's when you know a track is really doing its job.
In addition to the Atmos track, both the Blu-ray and the Ultra HD disc contain Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround tracks as an option. The Blu-ray, however, has an English 7.1 TrueHD track instead of an Atmos one, and also features both an isolated score track and a Descriptive Video Service track, which are not options on the 4K disc. Both discs offer subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
4K Ultra HD Disc
In a movie universe with far too many sequels and reboots of established properties, it's refreshing to see a film like 'Oblivion' get made, which is the kind of smart, thinking-man's (or woman's) sci-fi film that I wish Hollywood would make more of. This Ultra HD upgrade of the movie isn't a leaps and bounds improvement over the already reference-quality Blu-ray in terms of visual appeal, but for those who don't already own the release or who want to upgrade to the outstanding Atmos audio, they should certainly choose this over the stand-alone Blu-ray release. Recommended.