Two things before my review of Gravity. First, how was this movie not made until now? It seems like such an elementary idea, that I have no clue how nobody thought of it. Second, if you are going to film a story about space, and I mean real space – not science fiction space – you better make sure you get everything absolutely correct, because if you don’t, then it’s all ruined. Gravity gets almost, almost everything right – except one little thing. But that one little thing is really one big thing. Most of you won’t notice (which might be insulting), and you’ll enjoy the film completely. However, many friends have given me advice that I have trouble accepting: “Let it go.” Sorry, I just can’t.
Medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a NASA expert fixing the Hubble Telescope while Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) plays with a jetpack and Astronaut Shariff (voiced by Paul Sharma) plays human paddleball while spacewalking outside the STS Explorer, many miles above Earth. When a Russian satellite explodes, a debris field bombards the Explorer, killing Shariff and the rest of the on-board crew while sending Stone and Kowalski adrift in space.
Luckily, the jetpack Kowalski is playing with has enough fuel to save Stone and return to Explorer. However, it will not serve to bring them home. Thus begins – in almost real time – a race against oxygen depletion and the return of the orbiting debris field while finding an operational vehicle to return safely to Earth. Even just one of those things is likely to be catastrophic. All three should just be plain impossible. The only thing more impossible is finishing this review the way I see fit without spoilers. And, since I must finish the review, I will simply inform you that – if you have not yet seen (and you should see) Gravity but plan to – there will be spoilers follow the trailer, which you have probably already seen. Although I saw it in 3D, I don’t think it was very necessary to pay the extra $2. The 3D of the trailers before Gravity was more impressive than the use of 3D in the feature. Eh, either way, whatever.
To get the praise out of the way, this is a technological marvel. Although I know that some scenes were shot underwater either in preparation for or to mimic the effect of zero gravity, I don’t want to know anything about it. I intend to fully believe that this was filmed miles above Earth and these actors deserve not an Oscar but a new award called a “Buzz.” Whether that is named for Aldrin or Lightyear, you decide. Just give them a Buzz and let them make their speeches. Just please let Franco and Hathaway host again.
Most of the story follows Stone as she fights to survive despite both lesser training and confidence than Kowalksi. If anyone tries to tell you how Bullock and Clooney gave the greatest acting performance of the year, tell them to calm down. They were good, did their job, but either I clearly don’t know enough about the toughness of astronauts or these two were way too calm when believing they were only seconds away from death. If it’s the former, I will not protest. Nor will I protest the many shots of Bullock in the boy shorts.
If credit goes anywhere, it’s to writer/direct Alfonso Cuarón, who directed the best of all eight Harry Potter films, the Prisoner of Azkhaban. The constraints of physical space and blocking, even aside from the technology of working in front of green screens (which back in the day were blue) requires a vision that few in Hollywood could possibly own.
I expect that if you have not yet seen the film, you will not read the comments as they will likely give away things you don’t want to know. However, if you have seen the film, I hope you will join me after the trailer so we can debate why you gave it either 10 of 10 or 4 stars but I only gave it about 90% of that. See you on the other side.
Now, where were we? Oh, Gravity. I grade films from the top down, which means I start at 100 and must prove deductions should I grade it less than 100%. So, while the rest of the world is marveling at this 4-star film, why am I less impressed? Three reasons:
First, there are basic rules of space. First and foremost, objects travel in straight lines because there are no forces against them unless they strike another object. If I throw a baseball at Mars at 55 miles per hour, that baseball continue on a perfectly straight path towards the red planet at exactly 55 miles per hour until something interferes and changes either the object’s speed and/or direction. To violate that rule would be to ruin the film for space nerds, of which I am one. As you may have guessed, the film violated that rule.
When Kowalski and Stone are tethered together and floating near the International Space Station (ISS), they desperately attempt to grab anything possible to stop from continuing in perpetuity through space. Stone’s leg gets caught in straps from a deployed parachute, thus stopping her motion. Kowalksi continues to float on, pulling her away from the ISS to the length that the parachute straps will allow. The straps, while caught on Stone’s ankle, tighten and then stop her motion. Stopping Stone means stopping anything – or anyone – connected to her. That means Kowalksi. Inexplicably, he seems to have a force that continues to pull him away, thus threatening the hold that Stone has to the ISS straps. That’s just wrong.
If Stone stops, then Kowalksi stops. Instead, he is pulling her away to the point that he fears he is endangering her as well, so he disconnects himself from Stone, allowing himself to drift and die in order to not pull Stone away from the ISS. However, that breaks the most important rule of space. What force is pulling him away? None. Or, it should be none.
Second issue: why is Stone, a medical officer, referred to as “the expert” when fixing the Hubble Telescope? She is a doctor. As in hospital and sick people. Why is she fixing the Hubble while Kowalksi and another astronaut are playing out with weightlessness? I realize that each crew member has more than one role during a mission, but she’s a people doctor, not a computer doctor.
Third issue: When Stone is drifting in space and then saved by Kowalski, she is extremely low on oxygen. Yet, Kowalski is carrying on a conversation with her, asking her too many questions. Questions require answers, answers require speaking, and speaking uses more oxygen than not speaking. He should have kept quiet and told her to do that same. She, the doctor, should have known that herself.
To boil it down, Gravity is a great film, but it can’t deserve the high praise when it overlooks a very simple, well-known rule of outer space, especially when it could have been easily fixed. Instead of having Kowalski pulling away from the ISS, that jetpack things could have malfunctioned, thus causing the situation that endangered Stone.
Call me a buzz kill, but if you’re going to make a movie that purports to be a technological triumph, you have to make sure you get it right.
Teacher gives it an A-.