Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gravity (2013)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Spoiler-Free Summary & Reaction:

Gravity tells the tale primarily of Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as she attempts to avoid and escape an “all Hell breaks loose” scenario in Earth orbital space. Stone is a medical engineer working on installing an updated system to the Hubble Space Telescope. She is being assisted by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is on his final space mission. While working on the telescope, however, a massive disaster elsewhere in orbit sends massive amounts of debris hurtling towards the astronauts. As the debris slashes through their own equipment at devastating speeds, multiple times, Kowalski tries to help Ryan overcome her terror and personal fears to survive.

This movie is one that I absolutely recommend seeing on the big screen, with the bells and whistles of IMAX and 3D, if possible. I’m not much of a 3D fan, but this one is well worth it. (If you go in the near future, get to the theater early, so you can snatch up a good seat). The visuals are just as amazing as everything you’ve heard or read, and Cuaron and his crew obviously paid extremely close attention to detail in attempting to represent the experience of being in space to the 99.9999% of us humans who will never go. Sure, there’s plenty of action to keep the blood pumping, but there are also chillingly quiet moments that will stoke other phobias that you may not even know you had (agoraphobia being an obvious one).

Just one of the seemingly countless shots that will have your eyeballs rubbing their eyeballs.

While the visuals alone make the movie worth shelling out your $15 to $20, the plot is decent enough. No, it’s not groundbreaking or creative, but it provides a plausible premise for the film’s action. Of course, space seems the kind of place where it doesn’t take a lot for humans to get into some very serious trouble, and this is true for Gravity.

The weakest points of the film are the characters and dialogue. The actors do just fine, and Bullock may likely get an Academy nod for her performance as the terrified yet essentially tough Doctor Stone. To be honest, though, I found her character unbelievably sheepish during the first half or so of the movie. From what I know of the N.A.S.A. astronaut program, the men and women who actually make it into space are some of the most unflappable humans who have ever lived. Stone’s demeanor and reactions before and during crisis stretch plausibility at times.

Clooney does well playing, well, George Clooney. They almost could have just called him Danny Ocean or any of the other half dozen cool-as-a-cucumber charmers that he’s played so well over the years. And this is another element that stretches credibility a tad – I had a hard time imagining an astronaut, even a supposed veteran like Kowalski’s character, being so flippant and carefree about much of what transpires. I suppose that he offers the audience the chance to breathe a little bit, given the tension that runs throughout the film, but it’s all a little too smooth for my sensibilities.

The dialogue is probably the weakest part of the entire production. It’s often cheesy and clich├ęd, especially the messages about bucking up in tough situations. I honestly can barely remember many of the verbal exchanges between any of the characters. When dialogue is used sparingly in a film, as it is in Gravity, it’s preferable to me that it actually be more memorable.

Though flimsy characters and dialogue will often torpedo a film, such is not the case with Gravity. It’s still one hell of an achievement in film-making. This is undoubtedly one that will periodically be brought back to big screens for decades to come, giving people thrills. If you haven’t caught it yet, get out there.

A Few Recommendations of Other “Spacey” Films:

Here are a few other space movies that came to mind as I watched Gravity:

2001: A Space Odyssey (duh) – Stanley Kubrick did, in 1969 and with far more limited technological wizardry, what Cuaron updates and polishes in Gravity. He conveyed the sense of exploring space in visual ways that have blown away audiences ever since its release. Though the characters are mostly forgettable in 2001, the speculative theories about the ramifications of technology and the human desire to expand and explore give 2001 much more intellectual meat for us to sick our mental teeth into.

Almost as expansive as the cosmos themselves, 2001: A Space Odyssey encompasses far more than some of the more dramatic or adventure-oriented space films made.

Solaris (1971) – Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s answer to Kubrick’s 2001, Solaris is arguably every bit as transcendent, while adding far more personal humanity to a space exploration tale. While both films feature slick visuals, Solaris pulls viewers’ attention inside the human psyche in ways that the expansive 2001 does not.

The Right Stuff (1980) – Telling a dramatized version of the original United States space program’s earliest years, I’ve always felt that this film portrays astronauts as the always unshakable, often arrogant daredevils that they really were and are. An insanely all-star cast and solid film-making result in a great historical and dramatic epic.

For All Mankind (1989) – A great, concise documentary that compiles some of the best footage that N.A.S.A captured from the inaugural Moon landing, all set to a meditative Brian Eno musical score. A movie that gives you a sense of just how dramatic a feat it was for humans to, in fact, set foot on a different planet. 

That's a wrap. The next film I'll review is The Conjuring, from earlier this year. 

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.