Gravity

Gravity is a
‘space movie’…
The Space Movie!
It certainly
makes Sandra
Bullock space
woman of the
year, and it
showcases the
most visually
stunning use of
virtual camera
effects for years.
It’s probably the
best work of this
sort ever created.
Gravity is a film
that harks back
to John Sturges’
Marooned
(1969), and it has
key scenes
reminiscent of
Carrie-Anne
Moss’ rescue
sequence in Red
Planet (2000),
but, most of all, it
is the best movie
about a troubled
journey home
down to planet
Earth since Ron
Howard’s
excellent
docudrama
Apollo 13 (1995).
Alfonso Cuaron’s
Gravity starts
boldly with a
single-take in
real-time of the
fictional space
shuttle Explorer
drifting into
view, while a
specialist is
working on the
Hubble
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telescope. As the
astronauts,
Sandra Bullock
and George
Clooney are
convincing – but
only ciphers if
compared to the
stronger
characterisation
of orbital space
as a perilous
working
environment
where sudden
death lurks in
each second of
every minute;
and this disaster
movie runs for an
hour and a half.
Gary Westfahl’s
book The
Spacesuit Film:
A History
(McFarland,
2012) explored
this subgenre,
from its earliest
silent movies to
post-war classic
Destination
Moon (1950),
and Kubrick’s
masterpiece
2001: A Space
Odyssey (1968),
but he closed that
study of the
book’s neglected
historical subject
with the televised
coverage with the
first Moon
landing, after
which space
cinema was never
quite the same, at
least in terms of
sci-fi wishfulfilment,
again.
Of course, there
were several
other spacesuit
movies produced
later on – most
notably The
Right Stuff
(1983) – and the
casting Ed Harris
as the ‘voice of
Mission Control’
in Gravity
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provides a
welcome link
back to that
classic movie
about space age
pioneers. But,
increasingly,
spacesuits as
expensive props
that were too
cumbersome for
actors to wear
comfortably
meant that fewer
realistic space
movies were
produced, and it
is quite
understandable
that Hollywood
blockbusters
could hardly
match the
genuinely
awesome
spectacle of real
astronauts flying
shuttles or
working aboard
space stations, so
the spacsuit
movie became
the province of
documentary
features like For
All Mankind.
And yet there
was TV movie
Starflight One
(1983), about a
suborbital rescue
mission, and
Harry Winder’s
rocket-launch as
industrialaccident,
kids
adventure
SpaceCamp
(1986),
developed as a
technological
display, typically
filmed with
NASA’s
assistance, much
like Clint
Eastwood’s later
Space Cowboys.
What Gravity
does, and does so
brilliantly that it
establishes a new
benchmark for its
subgenre, is
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reinvent the
spacesuit movie
for moviegoers
who are not keen
fans of SF, while
at the same time
appealing to any
lifelong followers
of space opera
cinema who have
sorely missed
seeing realistic
drama of this
sort, and I think
they could not
wish for anything
much better than
Gravity.
William Eubank’s
low-budget arthouse
movie,
Love (2011),
about a lonely
astronaut
stranded aboard
the International
Space Station,
tends to wallow
in its depiction of
a man’s
crumbling sanity,
and favours
abstraction above
all else, even over
subjectivity in a
viewpoint
character’s
performance. To
its detriment,
Eubank’s indie
venture feels like
a student’s shortfilm
project
extended to a
feature length of
80 minutes, so it
far outstays its
welcome, and
what it offers is
mostly long
tedious scenes
between just a
few impressive
visual effects.
Gravity is also a
character study,
not of astronauts
or scientists, but
of space itself as
the most
indifferent
antagonist in
tomorrow’s
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world. This is a
scenario of a sort
that’s familiar to
hard-SF fans of
books and
movies like The
Cold Equations.
While facing
apparently
certain death, Dr
Ryan Stone
(Sandra Bullock),
the mission
specialist on a
space shuttle
flight to maintain
the Hubble
telescope,
overcomes all
obstacles to find
her way home.
Gravity is a
magnificent piece
of action cinema
that places the
viewer firmly in
Earth orbit,
where challenges
to our perception
mean a complete
lack of any sense
of up or down in
conditions of
weightless.
The movie’s
lengthy scenes of
tethered or
detached freefall
EVA, where
momentum and
trajectory can be
enemy or ally,
and the
numerous scenes
of weightless
drifting or
relentless
tumbling switch
between the
serenity and
panic of
spacewalks in
2001 and its
sequel 2010
(1984). When she
reaches the ISS,
Bullock’s
shipwrecked
spacer does a
fetching
Barbarella
spacesuit stripoff
in zero-gee,
floating
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momentarily into
a foetal position
but, even though
she’s made it so
far, it’s not her
lucky day and
further troubles
arrive promptly.
The drama is
almost
overloaded with
many stunning
CG-images and
sublime camera
direction, as the
astronauts’
lifelines of
technological
mastery are just
hacked away, in
heart-stopping
moments, by the
space age
equivalent of an
industrial
accident. Action
is fast-moving as
hypersonic debris
fields shatter
everything in a
catastrophic
fashion. If you
want an
expansive, and
yet paradoxically
claustrophobic,
sci-fi thriller
where it all goes
horribly wrong at
once, and the
lone heroine is
totally isolated
from any hope of
rescue, here it is –
packaged with
auteurist skills
and a peerless
visual design that
is a close match
for the stillpersuasive
realism of
Kubrick’s 2001.
Similar to that
artistic
masterpiece and
the story of
Apollo 13, the
alternative future
of Gravity
(where the
shuttle
programme
continued, and a
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Chinese space
station is already
built) is
concerned with
the human spirit
caught in
adversity on a
desperate flight
homewards. It’s
not as significant
as Kubrick’s
‘ultimate trip’, or
as well acted as
Howard’s
docudrama, but
it might well be
the greatest and
purest ‘ride’
movie so far
produced.
However, beyond
the praise for this
ecstatic drama of
isolation,
survival, and
flukes of good
luck which seem
like divine
intervention,
there is almost
no philosophical
depth in this
picture. It
embraces the
easy narrative of
a Hollywood
thrill-ride with a
simple disaster
movie affect and
refuses to let go
of your attention
for a busy 90
minutes, but
that’s all it does.
In 3D, I would
assume its
vertiginous
aspects are yet
more dizzyingly
pronounced. I
would imagine
that Gravity is
likely to
overwhelm an
IMAX audience;
as the movie
creates a
compelling sense
of space as both a
workplace and a
dangerous
environment for
the fragility of
human life.
5/12/2018 Gravity – blu-ray DVD review for VideoVista monthly web-zine at videovista.net
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There are a
couple of quite
forgivable lapses
of the drama into
bathetic
sentimentality
but, for most of
the engaging
movie’s running
time, it is a
gripping thriller.
As a piece of
hard-SF, this has
a somewhat
unpalatable
adherence to
religious
intimations of
the afterlife, but,
that annoying bit
of woolly
thought,
notwithstanding,
I would really
like to imagine
that Arthur C.
Clarke would
have enjoyed this
very much.
Give it four stars?
Roger that,
Houston… no
problem!