Movie Review: Gravity

Managed to catch Gravity before it leaves theaters. The premise: Murphy’s Law in space, set in the present day.1 Our protagonist, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), is made more of an everyman (everywoman?) by not wanting to be there in the first place, not perfectly comfortable with weightlessness and perfect inertia and vast empty depths of stars and nothing. Her foil is Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut who explicitly enjoys the solitude and silence of space.

Why am I finding it difficult to write a review here? Because there’s not much to say about the movie; it lays the whole thing out from the start and then just lets them play out. Gravity is a shipwreck movie2, and as such the point of the movie is mostly just Stone’s (and Kowalski’s) journey home. The only other point is to have a venue to show the stunning long-take visuals, which are indeed very nice. Gravity is more about communicating the experience of being in space than about telling a story.

Is it scientifically accurate? Of course not; that doesn’t make for as good a story. (For example, if rocks the size of your head are traveling at 20,000 mph, you aren’t going to see them coming. There will just suddenly be holes in things.) But to tell the truth, each individual danger is fairly possible, and the effects could be more catastrophic, if anything (AFAIK). Spaceflight is dangerous.3

A friend described the film as “a space movie for people who don’t really know anything about the space program” (not verbatim), but it could be a bit more than that. My basis for comparison is Captain Sunita Williams’ tour of the ISS, and by that basis Stone’s travels did feel “correct”, particularly through the ISS. I’d say that even if Gravity eschewed verity, it did achieve verisimilitude for most of the film.

There are moments of tension and moments of deliberate and overt symbolism, but the latter doesn’t add up to some intended philosophical enlightenment. There is a human touch in the exploration of Stone’s backstory, but it’s not magnified into an overarching moral. If any message is present, it’s that spaceflight is too dangerous, but I hope that’s not the message people take from it.

I saw the movie in 3D and felt that it didn’t add much, but (a) I haven’t also seen it in 2D, and (b) it might have worked better had I sat closer; both the left and right edges of the screen were within my field of vision. The score was a bit melodramatic for my tastes, offering a threatening sting where I would have preferred a void, but it’s a minor complaint more than a deal-breaker. On the flip side, the sound editing for the movie was very well done; many of my friends have commented on the sound of tools clunking against metal, transmitted and muffled by the astronauts’ suits.

And, yes, the free-floating shots in space were really quite well-done, cinematographically…in that I mostly didn’t notice them. For better or for worse, modern effects have progressed to the point where a spacewalk in zero gravity is par for the course—a far cry from the then-revolutionary 2001: A Space Odyssey! That said, other reviews have reminded me how much Gravity uses long takes, i.e. continuous shots (if possibly digitally edited). Long takes aren’t superior to cuts, but they are a bit more technically difficult and different from the norm.

As soon as I heard that the third spacewalking astronaut had an accent, I knew he was a redshirt.

So, is it worth seeing? I’d say yes, if only to enjoy the visuals.4 Actual astronauts seem to be divided on the movie, so don’t be a snob just because it has some inaccuracies. On the flip side, it is a Murphy’s Law shipwreck movie, so if you’re sick of that the minor exploration of Stone’s mind won’t save it for you.

It’s not “epic”. It’s not “the best movie ever”. But it’s impressive and visually enjoyable, and it’s only just over 90 minutes. So go ahead and watch it…on as large a screen as possible.

With all this in mind, though, one question remains: why is it called “Gravity”?

I guess (in America) “Vacuum” just isn’t that catchy.

  1. I wanted to cite the review wherein I first saw the “Murphy’s Law” summary, but trying to search “murphy’s law gravity movie” showed that there are myriad reviews online that do so. ↩︎

  2. Again, written all over the place, but this time found first on Wikipedia. Oh hey, the Murphy’s Law thing is there as well. ↩︎

  3. Here’s a site that postulates that Stone is in a coma the whole time, which is why things work out so tidily (everything is in the same orbit, for example) and why there are so many inaccuracies. ↩︎

  4. I didn’t get space-sick. You might. ↩︎