Well...opinions are all over the map on this one!
I am always fascinated by the wide range of factors that people use to judge any given film (in the cinema or at home). I can't play in this arena because I'm skewed to an etirely different set of criteria and influences coming from the feature and TV world. When one gets hired to do a movie, you often are chosen for a particular skill set that fits that movie or genre. For a long time, mine was the big budget action and disaster genre. You kind of have to be fairly tolerant of subject matter, and frankly, to do a really good job, you have to become somewhat invested with the project. My point being, you kind of do your best even if the vehicle is not your cup of tea.
As you might imagine, I am extremely attentive to cinematography and other production values. I am also very aware of the operations and logistics behind a show, and find that this can influence my impression of a film when I see it. For this reason, there are some titles where I will watch the extras on making the film very closely. These things are blessing and poison. But they are part of my unique set of values on the entertainment.
Sure, there are some flicks that I just can't get through; the wifey's weepy chick flicks, for instance
But a decent drama that is character-driven, even a bit romantic, and set in a rather fantastic circumstance will sometimes get my attention. If it happens to trip my movie-making induced criteria, I'll really sit up, take note, and enjoy. I found Oblivion this kind of movie.
I didn't see it in theaters, and saw it for the first time this weekend via my CIH front projection system. I am glad that I had heard less than stellar commentary on this movie, because I went in with lowered expectaions. I was very pleasantly surprised to really enjoy this movie. I'll let you guys be the hardcore critics of the story and structure, but I found that the filmmakers' craft supported the story and performances remarkably and in ways that maybe I am more sensitive to. I agree that it may be one of the most impressive A/V experiences I've had in a long time. By the end of the movie, I realized that I had not for a second considered the sound mix. I was so immersed in the experience that evaluating details of the sound mix never came to me, and I don't ever remember that happening. The next day, I put it up on a flat panel to view a scene or two and watch the extras. I was shocked to find that the impression/experience was entirely different from what it was on the big screen. This is not uncommon for me, except for the scale of the difference in the case of Oblivion. For your amusement, I'd like to point out a couple of things about this. If you're not interested in filmmaking/ the cinema crafts, then you're welcomed to bail now.
This film is clearly designed for the big screen from the close ups of actors to the wide effects shots. We normally associate that with composition and scale, but in this case, I connect this to depth of detail. The resolving power of the F65 camera and lenses used delivered an astounding level of detail. The photography used this capability in several ways to enhance performances and emotional impact. This is noticed most easily on close ups of actors. It is typical to use shallow depth of field to isolate the eyes of an actor. This film had the most amazing eyes in close ups I've ever seen, and I've been around the block on that a few times. These were particularly noticable and effective on the many close ups of ViKa and Cruise. Many of these had a depth of field about an inch or less. In film optics, this usually still results in the area that is in focus not being dead sharp because there are not hard places upstage and downstage that are in focus; it kind of has soft transitions. So, you can easily still have even less in hard focus than you want. The close ups in Oblivion are dead sharp as if they steeply fall out of focus at the edges of the range. For instance, look at one of the close ups carefully. One of Cruise as he is speaking to Sally for the first time (late in the film) is a great example. His temples and most of his nose are significantly out of focus, but his eyes are dead sharp. That's just amazing. It is also an amazing job of focus following by the camera assistant.
The same is true of many of Vika's close ups when she is working at that control console. It is also very easy to see something else about her eyes. Notice that her pupils are virtually completely dilated, yet the scene does not appear dark. Technically, that tells you that they were shooting under very low light levels. They were shooting at a T1.4/2 split...and the camera sensitivity is 800ASA. This happened to be the optimum exposure for the front projected sky background screen on the tower set. By the way, many of these details just cannot be seen on the small screen. You must have a quality big screen system to reveal these details., and there they leap at you.
Why is that a big deal? What is the advatage to being able to do that? It matters because, like the old saying, "the eyes are the windows to the soul." The eyes remaining so insanely sharp when everything else is just too soft to hold your attention means first that your attention is going to be drawn to them and, second, you can see so "deeply" into them. This has the potential to be a powerful tool when emotion in the performance is high. I can see in this thread that many of you are not sensitive to this "manipulation," but some of you are. As filmmakers we just have to try to all the tools in the box, and hope that most stick.
I highly recommend that you guys watch the four-part making-of extras. I was very impressed with everything I saw there. It is in these extras where you learn a lot about the heart of a production, not just the technical factors. Director Kosinski strikes me as a fellow that has a lot of potential. I'm used to hearing and watching directors talk and work all day. Even the biggest in the biz can be a huge pain in the ass...all day. But this guy really impressed me. But it's really fun on the extras to see all the extraodinary undertakings to make the movie. I'll not spoil too much, but it's really cool how they made this movie. Man, this would have been a great adventure to work on! I've retired to smaller gigs these days, but that one is THE one this year that I would love to have done.
I also have a different perspective on actors. Some are real pros, some so intense they are high maintenance, and some are jerks who want to phone it in. Say what you want about Cruise, but he dives into productions fearlessly. I watched a second time to hear the running commentary by Kosinski and Cruise. He really invests heart and soul in his roles and...ususally delivers. He really enjoyed this movie.
On a final note, I can judge one other aspect of the film rather uniquely. I also was an Air Guard fighter pilot, and therefore pay close attention to the physics of how imaginary aircraft fly. 99% of the time, there are glaring mistakes in how the CGI animators make an aircraft perform. Given the bubblecraft had incredible capabilities, it still must adhere to physics. I found nothing glaringly wrong about the flying sequences in Oblivion. Occasionally, I see a craft do something and naturally remember/know what effect that had in the cockpit. There are times when the bubblecraft zooms up out of a canyon and levels off abruptly to level flight at the rim. That would be quite the negative G experience in the cockpit!
That is why aircraft in that situation role inverted and pull positive Gs to return to level flight. But that is an observation rather than criticism. What I noticed that was very unique in the cockpit shots of the bubblecraft during high manuevering was that real forces are being exerted on the actors. Their weight in seats changed dramatically, straps suddently floated, and the reactions on the actors' faces indicated little acting was going on. Their performance was clearly influenced by the forces on them. Very realistic...for a movie. See the making-of extras to see how they did it.
Okay, I'm typed out and I've bored you enough. Cheers to all.