Oblivion (1994)

Actors: Richard Joseph Paul, Jackie Swanson, Andrew Divoff, Isaac Hayes, Julie Newmar
Director: Sam Irvin
Format: Color, DVD, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Shout! Factory
DVD Release Date: July 5, 2011
Run Time: 94 minutes




Apparently never ones to miss a marketing opportunity, the owners of Oblivion – a justly forgotten sci-fi western mash-up from the mid-1990s – have decided to re-release it in hopes of riding on the coattails of Cowboys and Aliens. It’s a shrewd move, but it doesn’t make the movie any more worthwhile. Besides silencing the browncoats’ assertion that Firefly is the most original concept ever, it mainly serves to showcase fair-to-middling make-up effects amid a story of appalling crudity.

Indeed, it has more in common with your average Syfy Original Movie than anything worth paying for: a grab-bag of cheap oater clichés gussied up with a few high tech gadgets and some genre stars way past their prime. Watching the likes of Julie Newmar and George Takai overact their way to a fast paycheck may be the most depressing thing you’ll see all year. The silly effects and threadbare production values wouldn’t matter a whit if the script held any entertainment value at all. Instead, it seems to seek out the laziest and most derivative path to resolution: actively daring us to call it on its bullshit.

The title refers to a frontier town on a distant planet, where the evil alien Red Eye (Andrew Divoff) guns down the heroic town marshal with laser beams at high noon. He and his cronies spend the next ninety minutes pushing people around until the marshal’s empathic son (Richard Joseph Paul) finds his inner John Wayne and cuts the desperados down. In the meantime, we’re treated to wooden dialogue, mistimed jokes and an overall atmosphere that those kids from Super 8 could beat down with one hand tied behind their back.

The apparent lack of effort constitutes Oblivion’s biggest problem. The notion of combining westerns and science fiction was old with the first Buck Rogers serials, but director Sam Irvin seems to believe that this concept is enough. He waits with breathless anticipation to show us Red Eye’s reptilian visage, or the stop-motion scorpions that periodically devour less fortunate cast members, rather than connecting us to the characters or giving them anything clever to say. The cast doesn’t help, with monosyllabic delivery that turns the dialogue into active eardrum torture.

Oblivion relies mostly on the spent pop culture currency of the actors to pull it through. Yes, Meg Foster’s icy blue eyes make her look like a cyborg. That doesn’t mean you can leave her all alone with the concept and expect her to make something of it. Takei gets the worst of it – vamping it up because he literally has nothing better to do – but everyone onscreen has to eat their share of crap. Considering the sheer number of notable names (including Isaac Hayes, Jimmie Skaggs and Carel “Lurch” Struycken), the director’s utter inability to deliver a compelling presence stings all the more.

No one expects Oblivion to compete with high-end blockbusters; a little modest entertainment is all we ask. The film displays a sense of its own absurdity at times and a “lighten up” tone that makes it hard to really hate it. But the longer it goes on, the more that attitude feels like an excuse for its copious sins, rather than a reason to enjoy its earthy charms. It apparently produced a sequel, promised by a “to be continued” ending and coughed up like a wet hairball a couple of years after its release. But that assumes we care enough about the proceedings to wonder what happens next. The filmmakers clearly don’t; why should they expect us to feel differently?

The Disc
Cheap and dirty, just like the film itself. It carries nothing but the movie, and while the transfer is decent, don’t expect anything else from it. At all.

Worth It?
Even in the bargain bin, this one is tough to justify. Watch Star Wars again or pick up Firefly if you loves you the Joss Whedon. Oblivion is nothing more than a bargain basement knock-off.

They actually put the term “Cowboys and Aliens” on the front cover: as brazen a marketing gimmick as you’re likely to see. Not too wise either: no matter how good or bad that upcoming blockbuster is, it can’t be as miserable as the results on display here.

- Rob Vaux


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