By Jared Young

Mailed on April 19, 2013

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Dear David Dungan
Set Decoration Upholsterer

Dear David,

The premise of Oblivion, the movie for which you applied your considerable upholstery skills (more on that soon), feels like the first chapter of an unfinished sci-fi novel written by a sexually frustrated high school recluse: cool pop music plays while a square-jawed hero roams the post-apocalyptic wasteland in his cool bubble-spaceship with a cool rifle, cool goggles and extra cool fold-out dirt bike, hunting down alien scavengers that look like the creatures from Predator dressed in hobo rags.

In fact, the opening fifteen minutes, which features a lot of expository voice-over, beautiful vistas, and flawlessly upholstered midcentury modern furniture, is reminiscent of the first few minutes of Strange Brew, in which Bob and Doug McKenzie describe, in expository voice-over, how mutants have taken over the planet in 2051 A.D.

This isn't to say Oblivion _is uninteresting. There's something pleasing about the nakedness of its world-building aspirations--and about the strangely antiquated approach to the sci-fi genre (it feels like a very pretentious and expensive episode of the _Twilight Zone). But even though it boasts breathtaking photography, peerless production design, and an enjoyable Vangelis-y score by French electro band M83, there's something frustrating about just how lacking in self-awareness the film is.

Tom Cruise plays the aforementioned square-jawed hero (with the square-jawed, heroic name Jack Harper), who, after his long days cruising the radioactive wastelands, comes home to a sleek condo apartment in the sky where his sexy British secretary swims around naked and makes him coffee (wrote the teenage boy one lonely Friday night). These living quarters are perched at the top of a space needle, and are an interior design enthusiast's wet dream. Here Oblivion proves itself less an heir to the works of Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick and more an entirely new genre of speculative fiction: survival fantasy for devotees of Charles and Ray Eames, a summer blockbuster for aficionados of Mies van der Rohe.

The attention paid to the prop, costume, and set design is really something to behold (and IMAX really is the way to behold it). If only the events that occurred within that world were so elegant and meticulously calculated.

This flick belongs entirely to the art department. Particularly to the craftsman like you, who clearly put considerable effort into giving depth, texture, and meaning to the space. It certainly doesn't belong to Joseph Kosinski and his team of screenwriters. While you obviously took great care to give the chairs and divans of the future some sense of shared history and evolutionary logic, the story falls back, time and time again, on tired tropes and action movie cliches. I was constantly waiting for a wink to the camera, an acknowledgement that it was all a joke.

Oblivion is the sum of its details. While the noise and bluster and relentless musical score press forward, the real joy of this movie is to watch what's happening in the background--to admire the clever conceit of Tom Cruise's bubbleship, which is so much more interesting sitting immobile on a launch pad than it is chasing probe droids through caves and canyons.

Later in the film, Jack Harper meets up with a svelte, full-lipped Eastern European castaway (scribbled the teenage boy later that lonely night), and brings her home to his sky-pad. One almost wishes Kosinksi had chosen to linger more on that domestic drama just so we could spend more time in the lovely minimalist living room with the dreamy, comfortable-looking couch.

Because the couch is really the star of the film.



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