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Defining Gravity

October 21st, 2013

I was hesitant to see the new space disaster film Gravity, as the trailers made it feel too much like a specific nightmare I’ve had of being trapped inside a spacesuit. I’m not especially claustrophobic, but the idea of being encased in a suit and surrounded by the implacable void? Yeesh. Plus, it looked as if it would be kind of a downer, what with what appeared to be the lonely death by asphyxiation of America’s Sweetheart, Sandra Bullock.

Still, from all accounts it was quite an accomplishment, and demanded to be seen in 3D IMAX. So, I ponied up my 16 bucks and put on my plastic glasses.

And…well, it was very good. I have my reservations, most of which I’ll keep to the spoiler section, but I don’t feel that either a Best Actress or Best Picture Oscar would be undeserved. For the most part, this is a one-woman show, and Sandra Bullock is excellent in it. And, as was the case with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gravity should at least be recognized for the chutzpah of its production.

As I expected, Gravity tops off its nightmare fuel tank. For nearly all of its short (91 minute) running time, it’s one harrowing near-death experience after another, as an exploding spy satellite sparks a chain reaction of debris which wipes out pretty much every man-made object orbiting the Earth. Bullock’s astronaut is always a moment from running out of air, bursting into flame and/or caroming off the hull of a space station. Gravity makes clear that while space is a beautiful place to visit, it is one that does not welcome your intrusion.

I really can’t say more without getting into spoilers, so stop here if you don’t want to know what happens. Otherwise, please rejoin me after this photo of Gravity‘s stunning special effects.

You may have noticed that I don’t talk about the film’s other star, George Clooney. Well, that’s because while the film ultimately balks at suffocating America’s Most Beloved Actress Who Isn’t Julia Roberts, it has no problem snuffing its Most Charming Rogue. Actually, that’s not completely accurate, as Clooney simply drifts away after cutting himself loose from Bullock so as not to drag her to doom. His fate is assumed, not depicted.

She declares that she will be coming to his rescue, but the film quickly abandons this notion. (In fairness, she never has the opportunity.) Oh, we get one last scene with Clooney, but it’s an oxygen-deprived hallucination she experiences after she resigns herself to suicide. I guess that the idea here is that her own subconscious is recalling a crucial bit of training she needs to survive, but having Ghost Clooney show up to say “buck up, buckeroo” seems like a bit of a cheat.

To be honest, I kinda resented the death of Clooney’s character in much the same way that I did that of Leonardo DiCaprio’s in Titanic. It’s another case of one character dying in part because he/she spends so much effort attempting to rescue a less-resourceful companion. One could argue that Clooney is at least partially to blame for eventually running out of jetpack fuel due to his unsuccessful side trip to recover the dead body of one his fellow astronauts, but Bullock’s panicky and useless (in the first act, anyway) character surely seals the deal.

But, of course, we’re not here to see a veteran astronaut calmly and competently going about their business; we prefer a terrified, emotionally-scarred neophyte who will ultimately Summon Immense Reserves of Pluck and Rise Heroically to the Occasion. And, since constant death by freezing/frying/falling isn’t enough, Bullock gets a tragic backstory about a daughter who died in a freak accident. It’s cheap and unnecessary.

I know that I’m coming off as pretty negative about Gravity, and that’s not the impression that I want to leave you with. My beef with it has more to do with the movie I wanted it to be than the one that it was. It’s well worth seeing, and really needs to be seen on the big, big screen.

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