Like many people, I was highly anticipating the screening of Gravity. The trailers I had seen for it were fantastic, so I was sure I was going to love the film. I love sci-fi, love Sandra Bullock…what could possibly go wrong? Well…
Gravity is the story of medical engineer Ryan Stone (Bullock), who is a mission specialist aboard a space shuttle to install some prototype equipment on a telescope. Things are going smoothly during the spacewalk until the crew gets word from ground control that there has been a mishap with a Russian satellite that has caused an unexpected field of debris which could be dangerous. On cue, a debris storm wreaks havoc, kills two of the crew, cuts off communication with ground control, and leaves Ryan drifting alone in space. Thus begins the adventure as Ryan and mission captain Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) try to save themselves and return safely to earth.
The visual effects are stunning. Director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) has achieved a vision of the astronauts in space that is wondrous and awe-inspiring. He really captures the fragility and minuteness of a tiny human being in a space suite in perspective against the vast expanse of the universe, in a way that hasn’t been done before (or nearly this well). The physics of movement in outer space, and the weightlessness is very real, and if you don’t think about it, you could easily think this was all filmed in outer space or zero gravity. Throughout the film, there is lots of movement and interaction between objects (and people) in space, and it is obvious that Cuaron took great care to attempt to not violate the laws of physics to make things seem as real as possible. There are several heart-pounding action scenes that are really harrowing, including one where Ryan and Kowalski are tethered together and collide with the ISS (International Space Station), and struggle to get a firm grip and anchor themselves to it, all the while bouncing around. These types of scenes are done exceptionally well and are the highlight of the movie.
Unfortunately, where the action and visual effects triumph, the script disappoints and drags down the entire film. The film commits what I consider to be one of the greatest sins in filmmaking in that it tries so hard to wrestle emotion out of you that it seems coerced. It’s obvious the screenplay was written with an attempt to elicit specific emotions at very specific times during the film, and as a result, you actually feel manipulated and naturally fight against it. This leads to some scenes where the dialogue is just plain silly, or people doing things that are out of character. In one very dramatic scene, Ryan and Kowalski are nearly out of oxygen, Kowalski’s jetpack is empty, and they collide with the space station in order to use its escape pod. After getting knocked all around the thing and bouncing off of it, it looks like they will not be able to get a hold of it. Except that Ryan’s leg becomes entangled in some cords, and so it would seem that they have made it after all. Inexplicably, Kowalski disconnects the tether between them so that he floats into outer space, saying he would only “pull her away”, apparently sacrificing himself to save her. This is supposed to be touching, but it isn’t and is a total failure. It just doesn’t make sense that these two, led by Kowalski, have had MUCH closer calls and risked much more up to this point, yet we are supposed to believe that after making it through all that, once they FINALLY have a real chance of actually saving themselves…he simply lets go? And, as a sacrifice for someone that he obviously knows so little about that only a moment ago he was asking here where she is from? It just doesn’t work. In the middle of this we find out Ryan had a daughter that was killed (apparently by simply falling down at the playground), and the grief and loneliness is supposed to mirror her attraction to outer space and set us up for later when she overcomes this and transforms it into the grit and determination she uses as a reason to live (after all). But, the script does too little to set it up, so we don’t really care all that much.
There are other major script problems as well, such as the fact that Ryan, who is not a career astronaut and apparently only on this mission because of her technical knowledge of this one piece of equipment, somehow has complete knowledge of how to operate (and FLY!) not just a Russian, but ALSO a Chinese space station. Stations for which the controls AND operation manuals…are written completely in Chinese or Russian. In one scene with Ryan, she is attempting to contact ground control (don’t get me started on how ludicrous it is that all satellite and space systems in the whole world have been knocked out), and manages to pick up an am transmission from earth of what appears to be just a regular person and his dog. She becomes so overwhelmed by this attachment to earth that she starts howling like a dog and breaks down in tears. We are supposed to be overcome with emotion as well, but the scene is just so ridiculous it was hard not to laugh. I’m still wondering if one of the main points of this scene was to demonstrate that tears would float in zero gravity. I give Bullock credit; she gave it her best shot and gives a good performance considering the awful material she had to work with.
I question Clooney as a casting choice for Kowalski. I don’t know if I can blame it entirely on the script, or on Clooney, but the fact that throughout all of the close calls and drama, he always keeps a “just another day at the office in outer space” attitude is not very believeable. Kowalski is supposed to be a seasoned astronaut; I get that, but Clooney way over does it. What is happening to them is NOT normal, even if you have been on a bunch of space missions before, and anyone in this situation might at LEAST utter one expletive, or get a little nervous, or maybe even start breathing a LITTLE bit heavier? Anyway, this is just another thing to add to the long list of problems with the screenplay, most of which could have been easily resolved. Clooney and Bullock have zero chemistry, and Kowalski’s silly flirtatious banter falls completely flat. Just like we are supposed to believe that Ryan is haunted over the death of her daughter, we are supposed to believe these two care about each other, or are even attracted to each other but we don’t. But again, I blame a script that completely fails to properly define the characters.
I really wanted to like Gravity. But in the end, despite the great visual effects and very talented actors, the film is stalled by a very contrived screenplay that just doesn’t work. It tries too hard, is too ambitious, and unfortunately, achieves too little.
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::: Renowned For Sound Technical Director and Film Reviewer ::: Robert is an IT geek, movie fan and part-time movie reviewer/editor. Robert also looks after the ‘behind the scenes’ technical elements of Renowned For Sound.