Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thor Didn’t Thunder, and Oblivion Should Not Have Been Consigned to Oblivion

I keep a lookout for the cable appearances of big-budget sf/f/h movies that I skipped in the theaters. Then I record them to watch while exercising.

After watching such a recording, I sometimes regret that I didn't see it on the big screen, but more often I'm glad that I saved the money and time. I can’t say what effect watching a movie while grappling with a heavy weight has on my judgment, but presumably if it does induce a bias, the bias is the same for all of the movies I watch while exercising.

Recently, I watched Thor and Oblivion this way. Because of how the two performed in theaters, I assumed I’d like Thor and would not like Oblivion. It was the other way around.

Thor’s big budget shows. The sets are lavish (but at the same time absurd and laughable in the Asgard scenes) and the CGI is impressive. But the action scenes are murky, and it’s hard to see what’s supposed to be happening. The scenes begin as set pieces, then there’s some stylized movement and much blurred stuff, followed by a set-piece resolution. The acting is adequate, but the dialog ranges from dull to silly to — in the Asgard scenes — embarrassing. There’s little to the movie. It’s better looking and acted than the awful imitation that appeared on the SyFy Channel but just as empty and aimed at the same pubescent audience. Thor’s box-office success is depressing and disappointing.

Oblivion is a very different matter. It also had a big budget, but that budget was put to better use. The CGI is excellent (albeit with one brief exception) and the sets are completely believable. The acting is quite good, and that includes Tom Cruise, who for decades now has been in the unfortunate and puzzling position of having to keep proving his acting ability. One big problem with the movie is the idea that clones, despite being complete human beings with the normal human range of emotions and needs, are interchangeable when it comes to love. The other problem is that the story line is a combination of a number of stale, old science fiction plots instead of something original. But they have been sewn together competently, and the result is entertaining and believable. I imagine that for audience members who haven’t read much sf, it all seems brilliantly original. The movie deserved much better treatment at the box office, and it certainly should have been a far greater success than Thor.

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