Saturday, October 26, 2013

Gravity

I've been hearing about Gravity for months now.  It's really my own fault.  Roughly 60% of my Twitter feed is similarly minded media-obsessed folks, many of whom get paid to go to film festivals throughout the year.  When Gravity first started its festival circuit, it seemed as if the film was causing many to go to twitter and, collectively, lose their minds.  It was, to paraphrase, 'THE BEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME", "THE BEST MOVE I'VE SEEN IN 10 YEARS" and to directly quote James Cameron, it's "the best space film ever done".  I can't agree wholeheartedly with any of this, although there are aspects of the film that I did enjoy.

SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW:

The film's focus is Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) a rookie astronaut who, it turns out, is about to have the worst day of her life.  In her pre-space life, Stone was a medical engineer whiz whose new technology has been bought for "prototype" by NASA.  Beyond this, I'm still a little fuzzy as to what exactly she's doing out there with Major Tom...I mean, Major George...I mean Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), the mission leader.  Kowalski is fond of old school, yodel-esque, country music (the kind that would today be called 'country & western'), sunrises in space, and telling ladies that they have lovely eyes, despite never being able to remember the color of them. I don't blame him though, it has to be very difficult to tell someone's eye color when the reflective visor of their space helmet is down and in direct opposition to the Indian Ocean sunrise.  Kowalski is a clown, until, of course, things go horribly wrong.  The basic exchange that takes place within the first ten minutes of Gravity is as follows:

Mission Control: "Uhh...Matt, it seems like we might have an issue, over"
Kowalski: "well...could you elaborate Mission Control?  I mean we're kind of up here flying blind"
Mission Control: "so, it appears that Russia has blown up one of its own outdated satellites and you might have some crazy space debris coming your way....wait, no, it looks like you'll be fine...no worries"
Kowalski: "Oh..ummm..good...but, hey, would you mind keeping us updated?  This seems like something we should keep an eye on"

literally 45 seconds later

Mission Control:"Hey Matt, get the hell out of there, that satellite debris is DEFINITELY heading straight for you...in fact you're probably seeing it right N....."

Mission Control, by the way, is voiced by Ed Harris, which I consider to basically be cheating since it plays on the audience's familiarity with his role from Apollo 13.

So, the debris rips through everything, the tether that's keeping Stone on the ship, their crewmate, their ship.  It's all horrible, and then Stone is there, spinning in space, floating further and further away from any sort of anchor.  Thank goodness Kowalski has that jet pack!
After being saved and realizing that their ship is crippled and full of dead people, they decide to try for the International Space Station, which may offer them a little relief, or at least a chance to get those bulky space suits (which by this point are probably filled with sweat, carbon dioxide and other horrifying toxins released when everything, including the sh*t is scared out of you).  Matt takes charge, tethering the catatonic Stone to him and basically using up all of his jet pack power on her, since she's little more than human ballast at this point.  Of course, more terrible things happen on their way to the space station and level-headed, actual astronaut Kowalski sacrifices himself for Stone.  This makes very little sense to me, and not just because I have a heart colder than an Arctic seal's feet.  First, Kowalski is the only guy who MOST DEFINITELY knows how to pilot a ship home.  I mean if anyone is going to survive and it NOT be a total and complete crapshoot, it would be Kowalski.  But this is a movie about Stone's journey, so, of course, sensibility goes out the window.

Now stranded on a space station, Stone escapes a fire, the return of the orbiting satellite debris, and the inability to understand a Russian manual, which, if I was reading the translation correctly, is titled "Learn To Drive Big Things In Space".  At this point, you're halfway through the film, and probably thinking to yourself "what else could POSSIBLY go wrong".  Oh, well, have no doubt, Cuaron has an answer for that.  How about not having any fuel?!?!  Yup that'll make space travel more difficult.

After yet another transfer from the Russian pod to the Chinese space station (yes, essentially this is what Homer's Odyssey would have looked like if it was also combined with Space Candyland) Stone is stranded, literally, figuratively, spiritually.  We get more background on Stone's muddled past.  There's something about a child that wouldn't brush her hair and then died (I prefer assuming that those two things are linked) that has caused Stone to become a shell of a person.  Now, she's ready to give up.  She's out of fuel and the only contact she can make is with some yammering Chinese man (who I also like to presume is Long Duck Dong from 16 Candles).  This guy is singing her the absolute worst lullaby, and she voluntarily starts allowing the oxygen to leak from the ship and she's ready to take The Long Sleep.  BUT WAIT...who's that at the door?!  It's Hallucination Matt Kowalski!  Always there to save the day with a quick quip and a life lesson.  When he departs, Stone is READY TO LIVE AGAIN!

Most of my issues with the film are with the script.  It has all of the subtlety of the proverbial Miley Cyrus Wrecking Ball.  I get it, the battering that Stone receives is just an analogy for life.  At one point Matt Kowalski reminds Ryan that "she has to let go", as he literally cuts the tether.  I wonder if at this moment, someone's script had "DUH!" penciled in. But seriously after about the 30th thing goes wrong, once you start cringing literally every time Bullock pushes a button, it's difficult to contain the eye roll.  I prefer the title my dad, unwittingly, gave it which is "Bad Day To Learn To Drive a Space Ship" to the overwrought "Gravity".

From a purely production point of view, it's amazing.  The score is beautiful, hauntingly choral, and expertly used.  The atmosphere provided by Cuaron's long shots and DP Emmanuel Lubezki's framing is appropriately abandoned and starkly beautiful.  Two moments stand out.  One is the tracking shot as the camera is moving toward Stone before seamlessly switching to Stone's point of view, so that we are now seeing  from the inside of her helmet.  The second shot is right after Stone has entered the Russian space station and she takes off her space suit and floats in to a fetal position in front of the window.  Performance wise, I'm sure that it was a heck of a shoot for Bullock, from the technical aspect, but her character doesn't seem to offer many variations of emotion.  I don't think you can when you're just constantly buffeted by space debris and anchored by dead (emotional) weight.

Overall: 3.5 out of 5 (but it'd be better if I could watch it with a mute button)




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