Tag Archives: Oblivion

Edge of Tomorrow: why video games are not the future for Hollywood

2 Jun

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If Edge of Tomorrow was just a big, dumb, popcorn movie about mankind’s last desperate battle against alien invaders, with only Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt to save us, I’d probably have enjoyed it more. But it also throws in a potentially intriguing time-loop in which every time he is killed Cruise repeats the same day, again and again and again, until he gets it right.

If you think this sounds like a sci-fi take on Groundhog Day, you’d be right. If you pointed out that, er, Source Code already delivered a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, you’d be right again. So you’d expect Edge of Tomorrow to delve deeper into the psychological and philosophical ramifications of this premise – eg what does it do to you to die in agony day after day? If you die and are “reset”, are you the same person or a new one? And what happens to the other “yous” who died and where does their consciousness go? But no. Instead it turns it into a pure video game.

The movie is basically a series of “levels” in which Cruise tries and dies, tries and dies, each time progressing a little bit further as he learns from his mistakes. I Googled this, and discovered that director Doug Liman has indeed done this on purpose: “I’ve tried to bring the best aspects of video games, the most immersive aspects of video games, into my movies,” the director of The Bourne Ultimatum, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper explained to games site IGN.com.

There’s a problem with this: if you’ve ever waited for your turn while someone else plays a video game, you’ll realise they do not always make great spectator sports. And where’s the jeopardy if our action hero is indestructible? Nevertheless, it’s intriguing that as video games get more filmic, films are getting more videogamey.

The creators of Lost admitted that they constructed the series like a giant video game – eg you find a hatch; you finally work out how to open the hatch; and that takes you to a whole new subterranean level. My favourite example of the genre is Gareth Evans’ brilliant action movie The Raid, which involved the hero climbing up through various (literal) levels of an apartment building, defeating a host of baddies on his way to the climactic confrontation with The Boss.

Tom Cruise is excellent in Edge of Tomorrow, reminding us why he’s such a plausible and likeable action hero after the snoozefest that was Oblivion. Emily Blunt, who’s become one of my favourite actresses, makes the most of a one-note role. The dialogue is sparky, thanks to the writing combo of Jez “Jerusalem” Butterworth and Christopher “The Usual Suspects” McQuarrie. And the action scenes are brilliantly edited, even if the Normandy beach invasion scenes (yes, this is Groundhog D-Day) suffer in comparison with Saving Private Ryan.

But the ending – and I won’t give any spoilers here – is particularly dumb. Not only is it too easy, there is a time problem which I can’t discuss (because spoilers) but which is so glaring I thought I must have missed something till I Googled “stupid ending problem” and found a thread of puzzled fans scratching their heads over the exact same thing.

So if you like killer aliens and Tom Cruise kicking ass in an exo-skeleton – and I do, I do – you will surely enjoy this. But if you hope to exercise the little grey cells over a time-twisty sci-fi pic – and I do, I do – you will be sadly disappointed.

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Texting in the cinema: a capital offence?

14 Jan
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Ssssh! A ‘noise ninja’ from the Prince Charles cinema

Today, retired cop Curtis Reeves was charged with second-degree murder for shooting a man in the chest at point-blank range. The man’s offence? Texting in a Florida cinema. My unworthy first thought was that if the jury were composed of film critics, he could walk free for justifiable homicide.

The battle over peace in cinemas has raged for decades. When I edited Time Out, the popcorn debate provoked more reader letters than Julie Burchill. The Ritzy in Brixton refused to serve it, though their excellent carrot cake nearly made up for it. Nowadays, of course, that particular battle is forever lost: the economics of the modern film business dictate that cinemas are not actually in the business of showing films; they are in the business of selling popcorn and drinks, with films but the bait to attract consumers.

But I’m not sure anyway that movie theatres should be silent churches in which to worship cinema. A film by Kiarostami, perhaps. But the fatal altercation occurred at a showing of war flick Lone Survivor; and during the previews at that. One of the most entertaining screenings I have ever been to was of School of Rock at Peckham, where the local kids ended up dancing in the aisles.

If audiences were always quiet as mice, the Rocky Horror Picture Show would never have become a cult hit, with key lines shouted out and Charles Grey’s neck heckled, or rather lack of it. When in 2012 the Prince Charles cinema engaged a team of ‘noise ninjas’ in skin-tight ‘Morphsuits’ to pounce on distracting viewers, that owed more to a canny PR manager than any genuine desire to create silence: they are famed for their singalonga Rocky Horrors and Sounds of Music, after all.

Film in the cinema, as opposed to on your own ginormous plasma TV with surroundsound, is a communal experience. We want to laugh, cry and sigh together. That’s why critics are often more dismissive of comedies and blockbusters: seeing them in small Soho preview cinemas in the middle of the afternoon with a handful of fellow critics, all stifling their natural emotional responses, it’s much harder to enjoy these films. I’m famous among friends for yelping in scary moments: I’m so wrapped up in the film I can’t help it. I hope it just adds to the atmosphere.

But that is why texting – or, worse, talking on your phone – is the least forgivable of distracting crimes. It takes the perpetrator away from that communal experience, and out of the cinema altogether to wherever the person on the other end of the phone is.

I don’t ask my fellow viewers not to crunch popcorn. I don’t ask them not to turn to their partner and ask how the detective finally worked out whodunit. But I do ask them to be there, with me, thrilling to the same explosions, laughing at the same jokes, jumping at the same scares, and even heckling the same rubbish (as with the Ritzy screening of Tom Cruise’s Oblivion). It’s why I go to the cinema. Otherwise, we might as well all just sit at home alone. 

Oblivion: where Tom Cruise’s career is heading

11 Apr

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I wouldn’t go quite as far as the heckler at the Brixton Ritzy – “Shit!” was his pithy summary as the closing credits rolled, to a ripple of laughter that sounded very much like agreement – but to give Oblivion three stars out of five would feel generous.

How can a $120 million sci-fi mind-bender starring Tom Cruise and set on a post-apocalyptic Earth contrive to be such a crashing bore? The set-up is intriguing: the Moon has been blown up by alien “Scavs”, producing catastrophic earthquakes and tidal waves, so that most of New York is silted up. Only the tip of the Empire State Building pokes up through the soil.

From their minimalist white platform above the clouds (an ivory tower, see?), dashing Tom Cruise and his English rose Andrea Riseborough collaborate on the clean-up of wasteland Earth, like Mr and Mrs Wall-E, while the rest of humanity have fled to one of Saturn’s moons. He dashes about in a nifty space-ship-cum-copter thingy fighting off the last remaining Scavs, while she stays at home managing the communications. (Evidently sexual politics will not have progressed much by the end of the 21st century.) But as their memories were wiped clean five years previously, not all is as it seems… to say more would spoil some of the more enjoyable surprises in the film.

For there is an original idea or two struggling to emerge from this good-looking but derivative hotch-potch of sci-fi classics. Sadly they never quite make it. Even at just two hours the film feels wildly overlong. If it’s aiming for Solaris-style philosophical heft, Cruise’s limited range puts paid to that – he only has his Cheeky Action Face, his Cheeky Sexy Face, and his furrowed-brow I Worry After Rock Of Ages And Jack Reacher That If This Film Tanks Too I’m Finished face. And Morgan Freeman is criminally wasted in a hackneyed and underwritten role.

At least the makers of Oblivion got one thing right: the title. It’s what this movie seems destined for…