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Some of the great modern Blockbusters are just variations on classical Myth.

The essences of both mythic and blockbuster storytelling – and their effects on the viewer – are remarkably similar. Joseph Campbell suggests that “the first and most distinctive [function of mythology] – vitalizing all – is that of eliciting and supporting a sense of awe before the mystery of being.” And Joseph Kosinski’s Oblivion achieves that duty—and splendidly at that. It boasts the breathtaking scope one would expect from Kosinski, the “world-creator” director, after seeing his ambitious debut feature, Tron: Legacy. Anchored by Tom Cruise’s lyrical performance, Oblivion is comparably charged with emotional content, creating a truly memorable sci-fi picture.  Despite its grand scale, Oblivion is an intimate, original, character-driven epic. On a side note, it also has some of the coolest set and ship designs since J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek.

In the pantheon of Greek mythology, Hercules, Achilles and Perseus sacrifice themselves to an ideal greater than the individual, in an effort to fulfill grand, predetermined destinies. In Blockbuster cinema, those heroes are manifest in Campbell-esque archetypes: from the super-hero (Superman, The Avengers) to the “chosen one” (Neo, Luke Skywalker, James T. Kirk). And then, there’s Tom Cruise, whom I consider one of the greatest movie stars of our time, not to mention an incredibly thrilling, dedicated and talented actor.

In Oblivion, Cruise plays Jack Harper, a drone repairman in a desolate, post-apocalyptic Earth. After a long and tough war, in which the human race has beaten scavenger aliens, most of the planet has, in the process, been rendered unlivable. The remnants of humanity have migrated to Saturn’s moon, Titan. And now Jack, alongside communications officer and lover Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), is about to join them; or so he thinks. To reveal any more about the film would be a deprivation for the viewer of getting to experience a truly astonishing myth for the first time on a big screen—one in which Jack is literally confronted by the “girl” of his dreams (Olga Kurylenko); one in which Jack, like all great aspirational mythic heroes, is led to discover who he really is, who he wants to be, and who he’s meant to be.

The dialogue is fantastic. John Logan – the brilliant screenwriter of features including The Aviator and The Last Samurai – once said, “I personally have no interest in movies that sound like people just sitting around a table talking. That’s not the cinema that draws me. And I think audiences are drawn to the aspiration to the big moment. Don’t be afraid to reach for the big line…. And conversely, [sometimes], go for the subtle, incredibly quiet moment.” Oblivion manages to achieve both. Each word is meaningful; the exchanges are dynamic when they need to be, reflective and understated when it’s time to take a breath. Above all, Tom Cruise delivers them with the utmost integrity and earnestness, with both gravitas and fragility. Riseborough and Kurylenko have opposing energies that serve to balance one another; the former seems always in complete control, while the latter is emotionally delicate and ethereal.

Joseph Kosinski first spawned the idea for the world of Oblivion in April 2005, when reminiscing about the great science fiction movies of the 1970s; that same year, he wrote an eight-page treatment while listening to M83’s “Unrecorded.” Nine years later, his vision has been expanded to the big screen (literally, since the film was shot with the new Sony F65, and must be seen in IMAX). Certain directors – like Steven Spielberg or Ridley Scott – are visionaries.  Kosinski falls into that same camp. His background in architecture is apparent, and forwardly influences the aesthetics and compositions of the sets; they are elegant, with both strong foregrounds and backgrounds, which create rich, deep frames.  Oblivion contrasts the rugged, barren landscape of Iceland (which Kosinski uses for his version of a post-apocalyptic Earth) with the clean, smooth, and sleek designs of Jack’s bubble ship, and his home, the sky tower. Unlike many recent blockbusters—those inspired by Christopher Nolan’s moody, highly contrasted style—Oblivion does not take place in gritty darkness. Kosinski says he was “ bringing sci-fi back into the daylight.” The effects are dramatically and viscerally different. The daylight keeps the viewer inspired, and gives the film a lyrical tone, which remains throughout–even as the plot evolves and takes several twists and turns. Kosinski’s lyricism is his ultimate authorial trademark. The filmmaker works his characters towards high-stakes, critical moments in which they can undergo emotional transformation or, at the very least, be faced with emotionally charged dilemmas. These moments are the keystones of Oblivion. They truly ante up the scope of the film, turning it into both a human epic, and a visual marvel.

This trademark showed up in Tron: Legacy, and pierces through the screen here – majestically evoking what it is to be human. M83’s and Joseph Trapanese’s enchanting score sounds something like the lovechild of Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, with a futuristic edge.

It’s worth saying that Oblivion is an original picture – mind you, one that cost $120 million – that is not based in pre-existing property or franchise. Watching Oblivion evokes the same type of awe and wonder that one feels when first seeing the original Star Trek series. Here’s hoping Kosinski’s creation will live long and prosper…