Gravity with little gravitas
Bullock carries movie, but production is the real star
By: Scott Hayes
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 12, 2013 06:00 am
Starring Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and Ed Harris
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Runtime: 90 minutes
Now playing at Grandin Theatres, Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre
Life in space is impossible. So says the very succinct preface to Gravity, a 90-minute rollercoaster set just outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, several hundred kilometres straight up, starting on the space shuttle Explorer.
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney) are working to repair the Hubble Telescope, connected with the Explorer. Everything is already precarious on these missions but never more so than this one.
The Russians have inexplicably decided to destroy one of their own satellites with a missile, the resultant debris of which hurtles on a collision course with the shuttle and our heroic astronauts. The vessel is destroyed by the numerous impacts, sending everything and everybody everywhere, a FUBAR situation if ever there was one. What’s more, all communications with ground control are cut off. It’s just our two little humans, adrift in an endless sea of nothingness who must rely on each other to get back to safety against astronomical odds.
Needless to say, there is a great suspension of disbelief that is required from the audience to effectively buy in to this movie. There are several major leaps in logic that one must first forgo in order for the story to proceed. None of these is greater than Stone herself, who seems woefully ill-prepared to deal with weightlessness and the immensity of the universe. She even keeps forgetting about how momentum works in zero gravity, that things tend to float away in space for one thing. This is her first mission, however, so perhaps we are meant to assume her naïveté is due to NASA’s cutbacks.
Kowalski, on the other hand, is commanding his last trip. That’s right, he’s two days from retirement. Of course, something will go catastrophically wrong for him. His role is more akin to being a grandfather figure than just being a version of Lethal Weapon’s Sgt. Murtaugh though. He’s cooler than a cucumber in high stress situations, never fazed by even the direst of circumstances. Ever calm, he also remains steadfast with the voice of reason, always saying the right thing, always having the right answer, and never showing any worry or panic.
Stone is more like a tourist who’s just along for the ride without really reading the travel book first. Under Kowalski’s care, she comes across like the young charge of her elder keeper’s babysitting service. He keeps everything warm and fuzzy in the cold and desolate Great Beyond while she struggles to keep her lunch down and can’t seem to keep all of her tools – or wits – tethered tightly.
This is a two-hander story (meaning a tale told by two actors) but it’s Bullock’s show as she carries the vast majority of Gravity. It’s also a damsel in distress story, with Stone relying heavily on White Knight Kowalski to take control of the hasty rescue operation. It’s a rollercoaster to be sure: technically proficient but it’s really just going up and down a lot. Don’t expect it to resonate deeply or that you should relate with the characters because it’s the plot that’s in the driver’s seat. Gravity is a movie that exists to prove that it could be made. The acting takes a passenger seat.
It’s a thrilling spectacle, a technological and technical achievement that deserves every credit. Director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki certainly proved their mettle with this challenging shoot that really looks like Bullock and Clooney are actually in space. Well, mostly anyway. Often I wondered if they had to film some of their scenes in the famed Vomit Comet, a specialized airplane that is equipped to simulate zero gravity by flying straight down for 30 second stretches. It’s highly doubtful because Cuarón loves long takes, much longer than such a short span of time as that, and there are many extended and complicated sequences that come across as seamless even over several minutes. There are many special effects that are not obvious also, which is saying something.
The choreography, for that reason, should be praised as well. It must have been difficult to perform so much of this space opera with blocking in three dimensions.
All in all, Gravity is pretty effective as a thrill ride despite having little depth. In between all of the calamity, we enjoy numerous views of Earth in its distant splendour. This does more to make we the viewers aware of the director forcing something to tug at our heartstrings, but it works, albeit modestly.
This movie will likely have its audience members’ guts churning and brains spinning. It is indeed a rollercoaster and memorable too: beautiful and terrifying, all sound and fury, yet signifying nothing or close to it. It is meant to be a prolonged treatise on the human condition, on the fragility of existence and the constant struggle against setback, with musings on the ease of defeat and the will to survive. Instead, it mostly just throws itself around a fair bit and doesn’t leave us much to hold on to.