Gravity, the latest film from director Alfonso Cuaron (the genius behind Children of Men), is a remarkable feat of visual entertainment. From the opening, a seemingly uncut single camera track that lasts for about 17 minutes, to the final frame, this film is more of a visceral experience than a traditional evening at the movies… if only it didn’t fall apart once the two stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, open their mouths.
I suppose the best way to look at Gravity is to break it down into three components… the good, the bad, and the ugly… but first, a brief outline of the plot.
A team of astronauts are out on a routine mission to repair the Hubble telescope. Try to forget that the space shuttle is no longer in service… but other than that, George Clooney’s character, Matt Kowalski, is the veteran commander attempting to break the space walk record, but alas, this is his last mission before he retires (of course) and he does nothing but tell tales of days gone by as he nonchalantly putters around the shuttle in his Buzz Lightyear jet pack. Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical doctor who, for whatever reason, is the one installing something onto the Hubble that will improve it’s scanning something or other… really doesn’t matter. There’s another guy space walking with them, but he doesn’t factor into the story much… he doesn’t get to enjoy the gravitas of the situation… this is Bullock’s and Clooney’s movie. We never even see much of the other guy’s face… and we only hear Ed Harris as “Houston” (once again… of course it’s Ed Harris).
Russia has shot down one of their communications satellites and has caused a chain reaction of debris, and it’s headed straight for our pair of beautiful space people. The scenes of destruction in zero gravity, and in relative silence are incredible… and if you saw this on as big a screen as possible and in 3D… oh my goodness, that is some seriously frightening chaos ensuing. That’s basically it… and Dr. Stone and Kowalski must find a way to return to Earth. No cuts to Houston, no perspective other than Dr. Stone’s… just Sandra Bullock and the occasional smile and twinkle from George Clooney.
So now… the good. Technically and visually, I’ve never seen anything as dynamic and gorgeous as Gravity. They get much of the science correct (Neil Degrasse Tyson ripped into a few technical aspects they got wrong via Twitter, but overall, it was solid), and manage to create enough action and tension to sustain a film for an hour and a half with just two actors, and really, the majority of the heavy lifting acting-wise was on Sandra Bullock, and she did a stupendous job. I would argue that the CGI needed for this film would constitute the third actor… but that’s simply how things are done these days, and Cuaron finds a way to finesse art out of the extremely technical.
The bad… for as much as Bullock and Clooney have to carry the movie on the shoulders of the technical feats of the film, the script is just clunky and down right bad at times. I won’t spoil anything, but there is an element to Bullock’s whole plot and story-line that felt like a cheap and unnecessary play on sentimentality that, instead of endearing her to me, caused me to react negatively. It is an element that just didn’t need to be there, even if there was an overriding thematic message they were trying to make.
Along those same lines, there are a few visual nods to this same problem that felt a bit forced, or at the very least, an obvious attempt at “art”… do we really need to see her curled up in a fetal position as a tube floats behind her as if it were an umbilical cord? I get the homage’s to 2001, but this scene was a bit too on the nose for my tastes.
My final two bits in the “bad” category… Clooney was a bit too Clooney… a bit too twinkly… and the ending should have ended about three minutes earlier. I won’t go further into that for fear of spoilers.
Finally… the ugly. I lied… there is no ugly. Have you seen George Clooney? He’s an absolute movie star… and Sandra Bullock… holy crap, that woman is 49 and gorgeous. At one point in the movie she removes the clunky space suit and is down to some undergarments… at no moment is this scene sexualized… it’s not about that at all… but I must comment on what great shape she is and just how beautiful this woman really is, whether you care for her acting or not.
I’ve heard a great deal of Oscar buzz for Bullock’s performance… I wouldn’t be surprised if she picks up the nomination… but I would be shocked if she could win with some of the crap that has to come out of her mouth. What I would say should be a lock would be some technical Oscars. If this doesn’t win a few Academy Awards for visuals, I would be flabbergasted… unless Pacific Rim steps in and steals them… which it totally could.
Final analysis… see Gravity on as large of a screen as you can and soak up the marvel that is modern computer generated film making… and try to imagine a better script. Almost a masterpiece, but not quite.
Cornelius J. Blahg