‘Gravity’ Provides Lots of Suspense, but Little Tension
Published: Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 16:10
“Gravity” desperately wants to be Oscar bait for the sci-fi crowd.
“Serious” award ceremonies for film notoriously overlook any and all genre films outside of categories like Best Makeup and Special Effects. So “Gravity” instead tries to be science fiction, without being a genre film.
Basically, it’s a disaster-drama in space, but one that tries to incorporate the setting into its storytelling so as not to completely sell out.
For the most part, that aspect of the film works. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts installing something or other on a satellite. I guess. Cue meteor showers and explosions!
The heart of the film revolves around the two of them trying to make it back to Earth after multiple disasters. The best parts are when the film lives up to its advertising. It’s a more realistic (if not completely realistic) take on the real-life fears of space.
Being untethered from friction and solid ground, without oxygen or notable markings to get your bearings is a truly frightening concept, and Bullock does a more than adequate job as our vicarious representative in the film.
The visuals do a great job of enhancing this, as they’re mostly subdued. Sure, things are exploding and tearing themselves apart, but they’re mostly small things. A space shuttle here, a satellite there—the scale is reduced enough to have clearly given the animators a prime target for some of the most realistic looking CGI I’ve seen in a movie, full stop. Aim small, miss small and all that.
With all the hyper-precision paid to every bit of floating, shredded solar panel and scorched spacesuit, you’d think the same theory could be applied to the characters. After all, the production team seemed to understand less is more in some capacity.
You’d think that, but unfortunately, no. The characters are painted in such broad clichés you’d think the writers penned them in a zero-oxygen environment.
Granted, the site of a space disaster isn’t the most logical place to exposit on one’s backstory, but that doesn’t keep “Gravity” from trying.
Clooney is an old-timey spaceman with an eight ball’s worth of swagger, while Bullock is the traditional Woman Who Must Overcome a Past Tragedy to Find God and Blah Blah Blah.
The characters’ personalities are just threadbare excuses to feel the correct way about them when they meet their eventual fates. Which is fine! When dealing with ciphers for our own fears, it’s probably best if we have room to project ourselves onto them.
Much has been said about the physics of how we get to those character conclusions, especially in the scientific community. That’s a bit more cringe-worthy.
I’m all for suspension of disbelief—I read comic books about men with spider powers, after all—but it’s different when the movie doesn’t even follow its own rules. Particularly, Clooney’s big moment shoots the idea of “realism” out the airlock.
Even if I didn’t have the common sense and basic knowledge of how momentum works to see the ridiculousness of his forced self-sacrifice (which I did, thank you) it breaks the rules of motion presented within the movie every five other minutes.
It’s by no means a deal-breaker, but it’s the spotlight that draws attention to just how shallow the character is. It doesn’t help that a career astronaut has shockingly little of worth to say about space, or the space program beyond “look how pretty the Earth is.”
In fact, the Earth is very much the star of the show in this space film. It’s presented almost pornographically through wide-angle shots, and revered by every character within the film like the only thing worth noting in space. Intentional or not, “Gravity” comes across like an Earth propaganda film in an era of interstellar colonization. Forward-thinking this film ain’t.
So, “Gravity” is pretty to look at, fun to be scared by and has almost nothing new or interesting to say. Oh, it does have the first use of 3D that actually enhances the experience that I’ve ever seen, which is something.
If you plan on seeing this one, do it in theaters. It’s probably not worth the price of the spectacle on a small screen.