The Scoop: 2013 PG-13, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Tagline: Don’t let go
Summary Capsule: NASA space mission gets blown up real good, and two astronauts try to figure out a way to get home
Justin’s Rating: Re-entry is a go, Houston
Justin’s Review: When you really think about it, little kids have really poor judgment in future careers. I mean, some of the blame has to go to the adults who glamourize some of the deadliest professions, such as firefighters, police, and battling against the forces of COBRA. When I was a kid, it was all about being an astronaut. The real world and fictional one conspired to make this the “must have” career, between the space shuttle missions, Space Camp, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Trwars, outer space was the place to be.
Then I grew up and I learned two things. First, becoming an astronaut meant that you had to not only be physically perfect, but crazy-smart in all sorts of science and mathematical disciplines as well. Second, outer space was less a place for thrill-a-minute adventures and more a macabre chamber of horrible ways to die.
Gravity might take some liberties with how everything works in outer space, but it’s absolutely terrific in giving me reasons to stay on terra firma. Having my space suit holed by debris, running out of air, floating into the void forever, being blown up, being burned alive, and having to put up with George Clooney’s incessant chatter are not exactly going to send me sprinting to the nearest NASA recruitment office.
Terrors aside, I must concede that Gravity was one of the best films that I saw in 2013. I expected no less from director Alfonso Cuarón, who brings to outer space the same loving attention to detail that he did to nature and fantasy in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
Gravity is one of the most visually soaked movies I’ve seen, a feast for the eyes as you are placed in orbit with a handful of astronauts making repairs on a space telescope. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through a cinematic experience where space felt this awe-inspiringly big, beautiful, cold, and deadly at the same time, but Cuarón’s slow burn approach to the start of it perfectly sets the tone. We are invited to not observe from a safe distance, but are thrust right into the suits and eyes of those engaging in an incredibly dangerous profession.
The story itself is actually pretty simple, since this is for all intents and purposes a disaster survival film. A cascade of satillite collisions cause debris to shred through space stations and an orbiting mission, leaving just one “how did she become an astronaut exactly?” Sandra Bullock and one “ha ha I got the rocket powered chair” George Clooney out of communications with Earth and desperate to figure out a way to survive.
While Bullock’s character is a little unbelievable — she’s got some very big mental trauma going on and doesn’t seem to really know her mission pals — her journey through this disaster makes for compelling viewing. She’s terrified yet smart, resourceful yet constantly out of luck. There are shades of Alien’s Ellen Ripley at play, but Bullock does a fine job taking the role and making it her own.
So no, I’m not going to go to space any time soon, even if I was offered a free ride. But I will virtually vacation there gladly with this film.
- The film’s space debris cascade is a very real possibility called a cascading Kessler syndrome.
- Aningaaq, the man Dr. Stone talks to on the shortwave radio, is the main character of the short film Aningaaq directed by Jonás Cuarón. In that movie he is an Inuit fisherman with a dog sled and a baby daughter, camping on the ice over a frozen fjord.
- The off-screen voice of Mission Control is Ed Harris.
- Gravity takes place in an alternate universe, as Ryan refers to her mission as STS-157 in one of her transmissions. In real life, the 135th and final Space Shuttle mission was STS-135. It launched on July 8, 2011 and landed on July 21, 2011.
- The opening scene, from the establishing shot of Earth to Dr. Stone detaching from the structure, is a single continuous shot lasting about twelve and a half minutes.
Matt Kowalski: Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.
Mission Control: Please elaborate.
Matt Kowalski: Well, it reminds of a story.
Matt Kowalski: You’ve got to learn to let go.
Matt Kowalski: Half of North America just lost their Facebook.
Ryan Stone: Either way, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Apollo 13
- Children of Men
- Space Camp