Film #109: Gravity (2013)

GRAVITYdirector: Alfonso Cuarón
language: English and some Greenlandic in the background
length: 91 minutes
watched on: 1 January 2014

I dragged myself out of bed on New Year’s Day in the hope of getting a discount for going on the first of the month to the cinema, but I chose to go to Gravity in 3D IMAX, which doesn’t offer a discount. So to no avail. I had heard many good things about this film before I went into it, so had moderately high expectations for it.

Visually, it was stunning, right from the opening shot, and especially in the large format it really filled your vision (and at some points I even got motion sickness). I didn’t notice at the time, but it’s filmed with only about 6 or 7 cuts throughout the film, computer assisted. The shots of the Earth are staggering, to say the least, and more than many other science fiction films, you really get a sense of the size of it all.

Storywise, it’s not entirely that great, though, as the story is very much a vehicle for the visuals. Its premise is simple, though: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are stranded in space after a cloud of debris wipes out their ship and a bunch of communications satellites. They have to try and get back to Earth. There aren’t actually any other onscreen characters, apart from a few corpses at the beginning when the debris originally wipes them out.

Suspense is held because by Clooney’s calculations, there is only 90 minutes until the debris comes back round the Earth, and the debris seems to make chain reactions, growing larger every time it hits a new hunk of metal. This was the aspect of the film that doesn’t really hold up to scientific detail: first the fact that the debris is travelling so fast in the first place, and second that any collisions wouldn’t be so chaotic as to just send things careering off into space rather than continuing to orbit. 90 minutes sounds awfully like the time it actually takes for the ISS to orbit the Earth once, as well, which makes me wonder if the makers think the ISS is stationary in the sky.

That said, the sections dealing with zero gravity situations are handled deftly, such as a very stressful early scene where Sandra Bullock is thrown out into space in a spin, and can’t do anything to right herself. A lot of the film’s situations are just like that: stressful is the best way to put them, and deus ex machina is invoked more than once to get Bullock out of whatever situation she’s in.

Even ignoring the science side, though, it’s confusing to me how Bullock’s character got to go to space in the first place, because she seems easy to stress, and remarks that she even failed a simulator test on landing the Soyuz. Her presence seems like a last-minute decision, too. Clooney seems more like a liability than an effective astronaut, too. But both actors put in brilliant performances and along with the visuals, they really carry the movie.

That’s basically it. Good performances, brilliant visuals, a whole lot of suspense, but lackluster plot and questionable science. Definitely worth watching, and definitely worth shelling out the extra to see it in 3D IMAX. And there’s something to be said about bucking the trend for 3 hour movies. Any more than 90 minutes for this movie would have been overkill and repetitive, but even though there is a small amount of repetition, it doesn’t drag and leaves a nice taste in the mouth.

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