Gravity (2013) Review (PG-13)
Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Gravity’ is a remarkable display of what is currently possible in the world of cinematic FX, but might have settled for what I would call a ‘serviceable’ script. The film works; it creates suspense, but as with some other FX extravaganzas I’ve seen recently, it seemed determined… not ‘content’, but determined… to remind the viewer of other great films that have been set in space. I’m not saying the film is terribly written, just that the story does not match the visual presentation. I’m not saying that it’s bad. Not saying that AT ALL, but I got the feeling that I’ve seen a lot of this before, just not as spectacularly shot as what Gravity depicts onscreen.
The film takes place almost entirely in the harsh environment of outer space. Sandra Bullock plays a scientist/doctor (Dr. Ryan Stone) performing maneuvers that space faring scientist doctors perform along with her fellow astronauts on the mission. I don’t think I’m SPOILing anything by saying an accident involving the Russians causes a satellite to crash into their shuttle, leaving most of the crew dead and the now untethered Stone hurtling helplessly into deep space. That’s in all of the trailers and that’s probably more than enough to describe the premise.
For me (and I watch a lot of films, especially in the science fiction genre), the story has some effectively tense moments, despite laying out a mostly expected chain of events. That it is so predictable is a little surprising to me given the film’s director. This is the guy that made me actually like a Harry Potter film. The last time Alfonso Cuaron directed a film (Children of Men), it appeared really, REALLY high on my own list of ‘Best Films of the 2000s‘.
The film’s back story, which was probably as expendable as Stone’s area of scientific expertise in the film, was right out of an 80s film. When Dr. Stone starts outlining this particular bit of back story (that screams ” Character arc! You know where we’re going with this!”) I did roll my eyes a little, especially since this same plot fragment was used in the aforementioned Children of Men (although, there it didn’t seem so cliched). But, that was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the film’s tendencies to steal unapologetically from other stellar epics. Gravity borrows liberally from the epic biopic about America’s entry into the space race, ‘The Right Stuff’. Two of the major events in the climax of ‘Gravity’ comes directly from those (true life) stories involving John Glenn and Gus Grissom. It doesn’t help that Ed Harris, who played Glenn, also plays the voice out of Houston in this one… as he did in a similar role in Ron Howard’s ‘Apollo 13’. I think this brings me to another problem that I had with the film.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney (who plays a wisecracking, self assured astronaut which must’ve been quite a stretch for him) are just as I described the film’s story. They’re workable, but I think the film would have definitely worked better with lesser known actors. A day before I saw this, I was watching the news and Gravity came up. More specifically, Sandra Bullock’s well built physique was the focus of the news ‘story’. They stated that when about a third into the film, Bullock removes her space gear, you could hear the gasps from the audience because they’re in awe that she’s keeping SUCH a hot bad at age 50… “Whooooo! Lookit her in those skimpy little shorts! Whoooooo! She fills out that tank top! Whoooooo-” SORRY. That was me. Um… My point is if you’re thinking about Sandra Bullock’s hot bod at age 50 you’re no longer paying attention to the movie. If this was some unkown actress, you might/would admire the form, but you’d still be thinking of the character instead of the actress. Does that make sense?
But, despite my misgivings, it’s still a film I would HIGHLY recommend seeing in the theater especially in IMAX (as I saw it). It is definitely a big screen film and will not be nearly as impressive in your box at home. It’s not just the visuals that are arresting, but it’s also in Cuaron’s choices in how he shot the film. He IS one of those directors that ‘gets’ how important the aesthetics are in a visual medium, as well as trying to capture real world physics. This is ‘Cause and effect’ CGI where there has been proper care given to the weight and mass of the objects in the film. There is never the same kind of emotional attachment to the characters with those films with cheap CGI that aspires to nothing more than cartoonish levels. In Gravity, the attention to detail to making the visuals more realistic (with one minor exception near the very end), helped to add to the suspense even if you kept being reminded that you were watching actors instead of characters from this particular onscreen universe.
In the end, Cuaron has made yet another solid entry in his high quality filmography. I haven’t seen all of his films (Y’ Tu Mama Tambien is the lone exception, I think, which makes me a bad person), but everything that I’ve seen from Cuaron has been a worthwhile movie experience. This is no exception. If you have not seen all of the ‘cornerstone’ films set in space… 2001: A Space Odyssey, Moon, Sunshine, the original Solaris (sorry, George!), etc… If you haven’t seen The Right Stuff… Then you should probably go and find those films RIGHT NOW… And… You’ll probably think Gravity’s story is a little better than I thought it was…. As I said, it worked for me,… Enough to be one of the better movies I’ve seen in 2013, but it wasn’t the’Greatest, most out of this world space faring film in the history of mankind’ that one might might be led to believe by the critical hype surrounding the movie.