GRAVITY – 3D B
USA (91 mi) 2013 ‘Scope d: Alfonso Cuarón Official site
As Hollywood special effects movies go, this one has several things going for it, not the least of which is the supposed improvement when seen in 3D and at IMAX, or anywhere that provides the best viewing experience possible, as this is another one of those state of the art movies that far surpass prior technological achievements. The other is the editing sequence, as this is not an example of prolonged Hollywood overreach, usually trying to do too much, but is instead one of those rare instances where it’s an extremely concise movie, which means it’s a well-told story without using any fancy extras. For a film that is all about the visuals, trying to immerse the audience in the environment of outer space, the film certainly succeeds, taking the audience on a rollercoaster thrill ride, but once the journey is over, there is little lasting effect, as there are few story complexities worth remembering. That makes it an entertaining film, but not particularly challenging, where the worst characterization heard so far is that this is a space version of Tom Hanks in CAST AWAY (2000). Films have been made about outer space disasters, including MAROONED (1969), STARFLIGHT: THE PLANE THAT COULDN’T LAND (1983), SPACECAMP (1986), and APOLLO 13 (1995), a dramatization of a real-life NASA incident that took place in 1970, also the documentary APOLLO 13: TO THE EDGE AND BACK (1994). Perhaps the film this most resembles is Brian de Palma’s MISSION TO MARS (2000), where a specially assembled team attempts to save any remaining survivors from a disastrous mission on Mars, where a lone astronaut is left adrift on the planet surface. This feeling of being stranded in space, where there’s little hope of any survival, is at the heart of the movie.
The story was actually sitting on the shelf for a number of years waiting for technology to catch up to the required needs of visually expressing the story, and while this is a 3D movie, it doesn’t attempt to over impress using the 3D effects, but instead utilizes the technology to create a naturalistic overall atmosphere of a gravity free zone, where objects float in midair inside space capsules, and where untethered bodies floating in space must struggle to grasp hold of something should disaster occur, as maneuvering around out there is laborious and terribly difficult. While ostensibly a two-person story, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) hamming it up while going for the record of the longest spacewalk, currently held by a Russian cosmonaut, while Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is busily struggling with outdoor ship repairs, where her medical conditioning is questioned as computer glitches continually prevent the necessary readings from making its way successfully to earth, leaving her repairs in a state of limbo. This delay is crucial, because she doesn’t budge, even after being ordered to stop and seek immediate shelter, as a nearby Russian satellite exploded with dangerous debris heading their way. When the debris arrives sooner than expected, with no time to waste, Dr. Stone is still working on completing the finishing touches, causing Kowalski to have to remain nearby to transport her back to safety. That option never occurs, as the flying debris causes plenty of damage to their ship, while Stone is terrifyingly thrown out into space, losing all control of her senses, as she can’t stop herself from spinning. Kowalski can be heard on the radio transmitter attempting to calm her down and slow her breathing, as she’s in a state of panic literally draining her oxygen supply.
Cuarón is excellent at building and sustaining the drama, where his novel use of the camera from inside the space helmets adds a surprising intimacy, while also capturing the beauty of the elusive sunlight coming from behind the shadow of earth, but watching the spacecraft behind them continually get blasted to smithereens, often disintegrating in utter silence, evoking shock and terror, where the audience is witness to several hair-raising scenes, most revealing some degree of death-defying physicality, leaping into the void, where they are forced to play daredevil with their lives. There are a few choice moments in the film where the silence can be deafening, also some spectacular rescue sequences (with sound added) along with even more near misses. While many are lauding the performance of Sandra Bullock, who reprises a Sigourney Weaver-style role from ALIEN (1979), but it’s a fundamentally flawed decision, as Bullock actually over-acts, bringing up a traumatic emotional wound from her past that would immediately disqualify her for any space mission, as they want level-headed personnel who keep their cool in a storm, which is why NASA initially pooled from only the best military trained fighter pilots for astronauts, as they were used to putting themselves in dangerous situations. Bullock is in crisis mode throughout, largely because she doesn’t appear properly trained for the mission, as she can’t even follow orders, and instead panics and gets overly emotional, where the audience can react to her sentiment and vulnerability on display. This may work for movie audiences that enjoy being manipulated, like Spielberg melodramas, but it’s awfully contrived for a futuristic scientist in outer space. If one thinks of any astronaut, vulnerability is not how you’d describe them. Usually they’re pretty tight-lipped and reserved, showing little to no emotion, which translates to bravery under pressure. So unfortunately, while the visual realism is superb, the emotional counterpart is all Hollywood. While this doesn’t ruin the experience in the theater, which ramps up the suspense and tension any way it can, it diminishes the overall impact afterwards, as one realizes this isn’t remotely close to reality.