19 April 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Tom takes our spirits to oblivion

It was a long fell winter, folks, but we're here to revive that Grand Old Norwegian Morning Wood Tradition of The Road to a Blockbuster - our weekly examination of the commercial, cultural, and critical potential of those big Summer Tentpole films - you know the ones, the only movies that people actually care about. We left last Summer with some terrible films like The Possession (2012), Premium Rush (2012), and Hit & Run (2012). Since then, Jewish Monsters are all the rage, Michael Shannon has been looking dumbly menacing in Man of Steel (2013) picks and Bradly Cooper overtook Daniel Day-Lewis for an MTV Movie Award. What a wild time it's been.

Go Blue Jays
Now, you may be thinking, "Dammit, it's not Summer yet! It's not even the last weekend in April!" That is true, and traditionally we will take that first Summer Blockbuster Weekend in May with a big dumb superhero movie as our Summer kick-off (this year we get Iron Man 3 [2013] to fit that bill). April, however, has been creeping on May's heady action for some time now. Today we see the release of Oblivion (2013), which is a big Sci-Fi flick starring Tom Cruise that only really got dicked on the release due to its original story. A terrible original story for sure, but it just doesn't really have anything to build from.

A big part of this column is a desire to predict cultural reverberations. What movies will we get to see as Burger King toys and 7-11 Cups? I always wanted a playset to reenact scenes from The Master (2012), but that dream is dead. More importantly, which films will we gather around to discuss a year from now, sit down on a hungover Sunday afternoon two and a half years from now, make fun of for being awful ten years from now, and then ironically put on a T-shirt twenty years from now? That is the true lifecycle of a movie, my friends. So, how does Oblivion stack up?

So far, Oblivion has been walking that fine line between "kind of cool" and "retarded." It's true that it's Tom Cruise returning to Sci-Fi after some success in action films like Jack Reacher (2012) and Mission: Impossible V - Ghost Protocol (2011) lately. Mr. Mapother IV gets a lot of criticism, but he really doesn't star in awful movies that often. For every Knight and Day (2010) there is a...well, an M:I:IV-GP. Sure the little dude's off his rocker, but he's been somehow pulling off legitimate action roles for nearly the past thirty years and remains one of the planet's biggest movie stars, despite what any of the haters say. AND in this movie he's wears a Yankees hat. That's pretty cool.

In your face it explodes!
Wrong. No one likes the Yankees. And no one really gives a crap what story Tom Cruise is in if it's not interesting. And, by all early accounts, Oblivion is boring as hell. Director Joseph Kosinski made one of the better looking and better scored films of 2010 in Tron: Legacy, which did kinda-sorta OK at the Box Office, and at least laid the groundwork for some nice coherent world-building for a cool TV Show. Tron: Legacy should have been a great movie. It built on the previous film enough while simultaneously engaging earlier fans without stranding new ones. The chief problem was that no one really gave a shit about Tron (1982) and somehow the film never connected with audiences despite looking straight-up awesome. That's really only because the story was convoluted garbage half-based on a film no one saw thirty years ago (and few are chomping at the bit to put ironically on a T-shirt), and the other half-based on Jeff Bridge's character from The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) trapped in the worst parts of The Matrix: Reloaded (2003). If that reference makes no sense to you, or you can't fathom that cultural juxtaposition, then Tron: Legacy probably didn't work for you. You're in the majority.

So what does any of this have to do with Tommy's post-apocalyptic Oblivion coming out today? Evidently the picture's damn near gorgeous, but if you can piece together a storyline from all of the trailers and commercials, that's about as good as you're going to get. The flick will probably do nicely at the Box Office, although it's a busy time of year, and with the recent tragedy in Boston, people may not feel like going out and watching a movie about the end of the world. It'll get swept under the rug as the better marketed Pain & Gain (2013) comes out next week and then all hell breaks loose when Iron Man 3 drops the week after to officially kick off the Summer Season.

As Morgan Freeman says, "Cigars are cool and I don't give a shit if they wouldn't last 60 years underground."
What's Oblivion's T-Shirt status? Thank goodness there's already a plot summary on Wikipedia so I can make references to "Tech 49." I don't see it as being that cool or catching on, primarily because the title "Oblivion" is pretty damn vague, and searching for it only gives me images and articles about The Elder Scrolls IV (2006) anyway.

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