His filmography is only two feature films deep, but director Joe Koskinski is already a standout in the science-fiction genre.
In 2010, Kosinski made his debut at the helm of the highly-anticipated “TRON” sequel, “TRON: Legacy.” And earlier this year, the 39-year-old filmmaker returned to the big screen with another stunning sci-fi epic called “Oblivion,” which he wrote, produced and directed based on his own original idea.
The film stars Tom Cruise as Jack Harper, a repairman living on dystopian Earth 60 years after the planet was ravaged by a nuclear war with an alien race. Alongside his partner and lover Vika (Andrea Riseborough), Harper maintains stations that provide energy for the remaining human populace living on the moon Titan. When a mysterious woman named Julia (Olga Kurylenko) crash lands on the planet, Jack begins to question everything he thought he knew about the world around him. The film also costars Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo and “Game of Thrones” baddie Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
I recently caught up with Kosinski to talk about “Oblivion,” which is now available with XFINITY On Demand, and found out what surprised him most about Tom Cruise.
David Onda: Where did the original idea for “Oblivion” come from?
Joe Kosinski: It’s a combination of a lot of things, really influences on films and shows I saw as a kid growing up – movies like “Silent Running,” “Omega Man,” “Planet of the Apes,” “2001,” and, certainly, “Twilight Zone” was a big influence. And all those ’70s films were more character-driven and idea-driven, because they just didn’t have the visual effects that we have now. I think the best science-fiction is based around a really compelling idea. And that’s the kind of movie I wanted to create – a character-driven story set within this big landscape, with some really provocative ideas underneath of it.
Onda: When you have a big budget to create these sweeping visual effects, how difficult is it to pull back and keep focus on the story?
Kosinski: That is the balance. The focus certainly is always on the story you’re telling, and the character of Jack Harper, and illustrating his journey. But at the same time, when I go to the movies, I wanna be swept away. I want the excitement of seeing an action sequence that I haven’t seen before. That was the interesting balance in this movie in that, fundamentally, we were creating this very character-driven drama – really, a love story – but at the same time we had a couple of sequences that were more like what you’d expect in a summer action movie.
Onda: “Oblivion” is only your second feature film – how did it feel to have Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman jump on board to star in a movie you wrote?
Kosinski: It was pretty amazing. It’s one of those things where, that first day on set, you almost can’t believe it when you see the two of them together on-screen, and it’s in your movie with these two characters I created. It was surreal. But, at the same time, when you’re making a movie, you can only stand there and admire it so long, and then you gotta get to work. Both of them were wonderful to work with and real pros and such hard workers and amazing collaborators, so the experience was an incredible one. What I really loved was seeing how much admiration they had for each other. They’re both big fans of each other and were really excited – as excited as I was to be working on this.
Onda: Tom’s done many movies in this genre, and a slew of high-profile summer blockbusters. As a filmmaker, do you pay extra attention to setting his “Oblivion” character apart from past roles?
Kosinski: Yeah, certainly. And Tom was interested, too. He doesn’t wanna just repeat the same thing over and over. And I think Jack Harper is different, in some ways, than other characters he’s played. Jack is a guy who doesn’t have everything figured out. Jack is a guy who doesn’t know exactly who he is and what he’s capable of. This is a man who’s kind of on his heels for much of movie. And I think why Tom was drawn to it was – this isn’t Ethan Hunt from “Mission: Impossible,” who’s very capable from the beginning. This is a man who’s essentially a blue collar worker, a repairman, who, over the course of the film, realizes who he is and what he’s capable of doing.
Onda: Was there anything about Tom Cruise that surprised you?
Kosinski: Yeah, there’s a lot of things. Obviously, I grew up watching his films, so it’s one of those weird things where you feel like you know someone, but only through their on-screen persona. You hear the stories about his work ethic and his commitment to the craft, and that’s all absolutely true. I think the thing that surprised me most was how, even though he’s been arguably the biggest movie star in the world for three decades now, he still watches films like a guy who just goes to the movies on a Saturday afternoon. He’s a guy who’s a true movie fan. He’s really able to step outside of himself and watch it like a movie-lover, and he truly is a movie fan. He just loves movies – his knowledge of film is incredible, he’s seen everything.
Onda: If you were watching “Oblivion” with an audience and could point out some of the little things you love about it that they might not notice otherwise, what would you point out?
Kosinski: This is a movie that really does need to be seen a couple of times to spot a lot of the things we put in there, whether its little bits of dialogue or the subtleties of a performance. One thing I really like, that we strove for in this movie, was that, the second time you watch it, you start to see elements in Vika’s performance that show she knows things before she would ever admit them. For instance, there’s on shot where Vika sees Julia for the first time; if you go back and watch the movie a second time, you’ll see there’s almost a flash of recognition in her face that she would never admit to. Those kind of little performance subtleties are the types of things we really focused hard on, making sure this was a movie that is a different experience the second time you watch it.
Onda: The sci-fi genre is massive – why should movie fans choose to watch “Oblivion”?
Kosinski: I think this is a movie that’s not just for science-fiction fans. The themes and the ideas in this movie are ones that, I think, anyone can relate to. They ask fundamental questions about what it is that makes us who we are, what does it mean to be human, what is the nature of true love? In the end, it’s a very hopeful movie, it’s a very romantic movie. I had a lot of women come up to me after seeing the movie and say that they never thought they would enjoy a science-fiction film, but this is one they really loved for those reasons. I would say, for people who normally wouldn’t consider themselves science-fiction fans, this is one worth checking out.
“Oblivion” is now available with XFINITY On Demand. Click here to begin the process of ordering at home.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.