Gravity follows the first space trip of Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer, who after only six months of training is allowed into space to make repairs to the Hubble telescope. The mission turns catastrophic when debris from a Russian missile explosion comes careening through space, destroying the ship, and killing all of her colleagues. As the sole survivor and with NASA communication entirely cut off, she is left to her own devices, floating through space and using what strength and oxygen she has left to locate a space station that will help her get back to Earth.
In a feat that surprises no one, director Alfonso Cuaron completely delivers. The shots of the Earth and its surrounding space are both stunning and overwhelming in equal measure. And for a film reliant almost entirely on special effects and CGI—I will concede that it wasn’t terribly painful. In fact, much of the time I was completely fooled by how real it looked, which doesn’t happen to me very often.
The camera work helped in this effort, and seemed to helplessly float in space, just like the subjects it was filming. The shots are rarely straight on, and instead everything is shot from a variety of illogical angles giving viewers the exact stomach-churning, helpless feeling that Ryan has as she flips over and over and over, moving further and further away from the destroyed ship. Essentially, we view this void of space from Ryan’s perspective, and the method is incredibly successful. I began this movie, knowing what it would entail, with a pit in my stomach, and the frantic camera work only served to make it worse. Unpleasant though that may have been, it certainly helped to enrapture me for the full ninety minutes.
Cuaron also works his magic with the sound—which is easily the strongest part of the film. Before the movie begins, a caption tells us “600km above Earth…there is no sound”—an unnecessary fact given that Cuaron takes such care to convey the extremities of sound, or lack there of, throughout the film. Like the visuals, we are also hearing what Ryan hears. When she wears her space helmet, voices and crashing debris are appropriately muffled as though our ears are also covered. When she is in the various space stations, the muffled din of noise immediately and violently bursts open as sound revives at full force when she removes her helmet. Similarly, the music—which got a bit over the top at times—is especially loud and daunting in moments when Ryan is beside herself with terror. In moments when she is calm, or must focus the music softens to almost nothing at all.
Unfortunately, the screenplay itself by Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron, was not much to speak of. Naturally, there’s very little dialogue, save for frantic “oh god’s” and such, seeing as much of the movie is a single astronaut lost in space and cut off from all communication. But in the dialogue heavy sections—like when Ryan’s colleague Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is aiding her at the beginning, or when Ryan, with renewed vigor, starts a lengthy monologue pep talk—the writing is pretty painful. It is riddled with cliché and devastatingly flat lines like, “Can’t beat the view”, “I hate space”, “I’d pray but no one taught me how”, and the most ridiculous of all, “Well, it’s not rocket science”… I get that it’s irony, guys, but it just made me roll my eyes.
Ryan is the only character, for obvious reasons, that they attempted to develop into something three-dimensional. Unfortunately, I think they failed spectacularly. The only real character detail they allow is that Ryan has recently lost her four-year-old daughter. This gives us valid reason to believe that part of her doesn’t actually want to survive, and helps us understand how the silence and isolation of space appeals to her. However, we get nothing more than that. Perhaps they felt that too much character would overshadow the dire situation, or would seem unrealistic in the circumstances, but I personally watch movies for their characters so I was left wholly unsatisfied.
I will say that Sandra Bullock played the role very well considering the lack of actual character to play, but naturally I can think of at least a half a dozen of her previous performances that overshadow this one entirely.
Honestly, George Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, just irritated me. He only exists—and indeed, only lives long enough—to be the seasoned astronaut that makes sure Ryan knows what she has to do to survive. His character is a wisecracking, carefree, all-knowing messiah spaceman, who tells irrelevant anecdotes while drifting helplessly through space, and even returns from the dead in an obscure and entirely unnecessary scene to give a “this is why you need to live” speech exactly when Ryan needs it most.
Ultimately, Gravity succeeds because of its chilling premise and the directorial genius of Alfonso Cuaron. It is succinct and doesn’t drag on, and this reviewer was certainly captivated (and terrified) the entire time. However, the weak story and dialogue easily (and frequently) jars you briefly out of the narrative, and for that reason I don’t think it has a hope in winning the Oscar for Best Picture. In fact, if it wasn’t such a stunning movie visually, I would be pretty indignant about it being nominated in that category at all. I do think that Cuaron is strong candidate for the Best Director win, as is the film itself for Sound Editing.
If you’re looking for a quick, ninety-minute movie adventure—you should definitely give Gravity a go. Just don’t expect to be entirely wowed by the story itself.
That’s it for Oscar reviews, artsies! We’ll be back next week with a results post from this Sunday’s Academy Awards!
Catch ya later.
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