Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
(PG-13, 125 min.)
Genre: Science Fiction andFantasy
“I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.” Jeanette Winterson
Somewhere between the space opera camp of Star Wars and the obtuse philosophical musings of 2001: A Space Odyssey, this film gets the sci fi recipe just right. Hollywood rediscovers the art of storytelling once again – equal parts adventure, intrigue, and romance simmer slowly under a surface gloss of glass and steel.
Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is no hero, as he says himself in his succinct history of the now abandoned planet.
Sixty years ago, Earth was attacked. We won the war, but they destroyed half the planet. Everyone's been evacuated. Nothing human remains. We're here for drone repair. We're the "mop-up crew."
How much better to start with no grand dimensions, no self-erected peaks from which to tumble? Oblivion doesn’t try too hard to be profound; it is devoid of the pretentious pomp of last year’s fizzled Prometheus. It eschews the self-conscious cosmic grandeur of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of life. Unlike the heralded opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we have no grand Richard Strauss notes cue us to the power of a black obelisk as a single ape picks up a bone and wields it above his head in triumph.
We’re just watching the daily chores of the mop up crew. Jack Harper is a human version of WALL-E, cleaning up a wasted earth.
But while he may be a mere high tech janitor, we still can’t get those decades’ old Top Gun images out of our minds as we watch Cruise fly his futuristic craft over a desolate earth. The 1986 grin and swagger are muted here, but the flying is every bit as breath taking, almost running circles around those F-14s of old.
Bit by bit, though, we realize there is more to Jack Harper. Vicka (Andrea Riseborough), Jack’s live in assistant, placidly monitors his exploits on earth from a sleek tabletop monitor in their Jetsons’ style abode. She is counting the days until they finish their mission and join the other humans now living on Tritan, a moon of Saturn. Jack not so much.
He wears an old New York Yankees baseball cap atop his silver uniform. And the trappings of earth as it was before the alien invasion linger about him. Jack haunts the old relics almost covered by sand and debris, reliving a classic Yankee’s ball game in what’s left of its stadium or wandering in the sunken towers of the Empire State Building, images of it in its original splendor flashing across his mind – as well as the warm smile of a mysterious beauty.
Underneath it all, Jack is asking the age-old existential question: Who am I? And along with him we begin to wonder who is master, man or machine. Jack services the weaponized drones. They, in turn, protect even larger machines from the nightly marauding of the "scavs," scavenger remnants of the defeated Alien race. Sally, Jack’s commander, appears only as a face on the computer, friendly right down to her Southern drawl. But there is an iron will behind the sugar.
As we and Jack begin to realize that things are not really what they seem, his view of history and his place in it perhaps a manipulated illusion, we may wonder about our world as well. A world of weaponized drones, of sugary words from those who wield their power and manipulation behind the curtain. An Oz with flying monkeys overhead where an almost imperceptible cackling haunts our ears.
In between his drone patrols, when he is not reliving old Yankee games or fighting images of himself atop the Empire State Building, Jack Harper has a secret place to comfort him. It is a piece of green with a cabin he has built himself. It is also home to scraps of the past he has collected from the abandoned planet, old books and records, even a turntable that he has managed to get working again.
There is even a trout in the deep and dark pond outside. “Will you miss me?” Jack asks the creature on what he expects to be his last visit there.
I suppose in light of that relationship, my recipe for Campfire Trout with Herbs and Bacon seems a bit cruel. But a man’s got to eat, right?
Campfire Trout with Herbs and Bacon
We think grilling over an open fire is really the best way to cook trout. For this recipe, we leave the catching and cleaning part to the pros by buying ready-to-cook boneless, butterflied fish. We stuff it with herbs and lemon, wrap it with a little bacon, and put it over the fire. Now that’s haute grub!
What to buy: Boneless, butterflied trout are available in many grocery stores.
Special equipment: A grilling basket makes grilling whole stuffed fish much easier. Game plan: Wash the herbs and slice the lemons the day before you go camping for much quicker fireside prep.
The fish can also be cooked on an outdoor grill over high heat (500°F) until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes. You can also make this dish indoors by preparing the fish as directed and placing it on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet under a heated broiler. Cook for 5 minutes or until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
4 small butterflied whole trout (8 to 10 ounces each)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 medium lemon, thinly sliced
Generous handful of mixed herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, chervil, and tarragon
4 pieces thinly sliced smoked bacon or turkey bacon
Build a campfire and place a grilling rack over it.
Open the grilling basket and place it over a cutting board. Lay trout in the grilling basket opened up like a book. Sprinkle flesh generously with salt and pepper mix. Distribute lemon slices and herbs evenly among trout, laying ingredients on the left half of each fish.
Close the right half of the trout over the filling. Secure each fish by wrapping a slice of bacon around its middle section. Sprinkle outside of each fish with salt and pepper mix and close the grilling basket.
Set the grilling basket over the campfire, directly on the grill rack. Cook, flipping the grilling basket occasionally, until trout are nicely browned, bacon is rendered, and each fish’s flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove from heat, open the basket, and transfer fish to a serving platter.