‘Gravity’ Is The Year’s Best Artsy Thriller

By on November 27, 2013
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With Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón has ascended to a level of fanboy adulation matched only by his countryman Guillermo Del Toro, so when he makes a big budget sci-fi film like Gravity, it’s impossible not to get noticed. But does Gravity really qualify as sci-fi, and if it does, is it really the most astounding experience we’ve had since 2001: A Space Odyssey? Let’s review.

Gravity

Bullock + Clooney + Space = Blockbuster.

Gravity opens on Sandra Bullock and George Clooney repairing the Hubble telescope. Clooney’s a grizzled veteran of multiple space missions, meaning it’s his last day on the job, and Bullock’s a medical engineer. Why is a medical doctor in space? Forget about that. The nightmare scenario predicted by Donald Kessler, wherein satellite collision in low-Earth orbit could lead to a cascading effect of debris travelling at bullet speeds and tearing apart anything in its path, comes to fruition. Bullock loses contact with mission control and tumbles off into space.

Utilizing the best computer graphics money can buy and a verifiable genius of cinematography in Emmanuel Lubezki, a 5-time Oscar nominee who should have won his last two for Children of Men and The Tree of Life, Gravity is the most visually stunning film of the year bar-none. I have never before experienced the level of motion sickness I had sitting still while watching this film on 3D IMAX, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. It’s probably the closest thing to being in space that any human will ever feel in a movie theatre.

Gravity

Gravity makes space travel far more terrifying than any of its predecessors.

Similarly, the below-the-line wizards of sound effects and scoring make the destruction of several massive objects like space shuttles and space stations existentially harrowing; watching the ISS being torn to shreds while blowing up in silence but for the aid of the throbbing score is the most beautifully rendered white-knuckle experience of the year.

Then, Sandra Bullock’s character colorfully retorts “I hate space.”

And thus, Gravity experiences its series of major weaknesses that, for some sci-fi fans, have become major flaws. Gravity is essentially George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in space, so a certain level of non-character development can be expected. Alas, rather than getting a sensation of these astronauts as real people, they are a series of one-liners and fatally obvious stock traits that could not be elevated if both roles were acted by Laurence Olivier. The less barking done by Sandra Bullock, the better.

An extended hallucination during one moment of the film is forgivable for narrative thrust, as is the shuttle-bound medical doctor, the rampant distortions of laws of physics, and the fact that the major set pieces are so far apart in reality that no amount of fuel or improvisational planning could cover the distance, but the one moment of unforgivable artistic masturbation occurs when Bullock enters an airlock, proceeds to doff her space suit, and curls up in the fetal position, weightless as an oxygen hose wafts behind her stomach. Is this a reference to being in the womb? No, it couldn’t be! They couldn’t possibly insult the audience’s intelligence badly enough to expect that this could go unnoticed or (gasp) unappreciated!

 

Gravity

Sandra Bullock reborn!

Actually, yes, they could.

It’s the most pretentious shot in a movie this year. Does Sandra Bullock feel safe in the airlock? Of course. Is she being, in a sense, reborn? Emphatically no. It’s the type of completely worthless artistic parable that one might see in a first-year student film and, unfortunately, Gravity is loaded with like-minded moments of painful artistically existential expression.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a film in which form trumps substance. Stylistically similar films like Transformers and Pacific Rim don’t make hundreds of millions of dollars for their scripts or acting, and structurally similar films like Argo don’t win awards for verisimilitude.

If Gravity had to be boiled down to three words, they might be artsy popcorn flick.

Gravity

Despite its beautiful stellar vistas, Gravity could have just as easily taken place underwater.

The artistic schmaltz is on par with a space soap opera, but the action sequences are so completely arresting and the film is so predicated on visuals that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Gravity is the single greatest technical achievement of the year. Strictly speaking, it’s just not science fiction, and it’s certainly not even close to the best sci-fi film since 2001.

The fact that Gravity takes place in space is incidental. Nothing about film has any bearing on science, other than playing by the rules of the eponymous relative interaction and the fact that space is considered a scientific medium by its nature. It’s a fantastic movie-going experience on par with a particularly thrilling roller coaster, but you can be assured it that it won’t leave you with the same sense of wonder or intellectual stimulation as a film like Europa Report. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Unless you think Gravity is the best sci-fi film since 2001.

RATING:

Star Ratings

Four Stars

 

 

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Bryan Way
Bryan Way is the author of zombie novel Life After: The Arising, a graduate of Temple University, and an aspiring Ghostbuster and starship captain. You can find his writing over at Homepage of the Dead and on Amazon.
  • http://www.zombiepop.net/ Curtez

    What a way to open up the site, very nice review!

  • BCarbaugh

    “but you can be assured it that it won’t leave you with the same sense of wonder or intellectual stimulation as a film like Europa Report.”

    Good. Europa Report was the most idiotic excuse for an “intellectual” sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen. A movie whose “no, we’re doing SERIOUS space sci-fi” premise only serves to undermine itself even more noticeably when the film not only shifts to your standard “monsters offing the crew” space horror thriller, but a godawful one at that. And it totally misunderstands what it is that makes astronauts heroic. Hint: it’s not risking their lives for the sake of ~the mission~.

    • https://www.facebook.com/LifeAfterNovel Bryan Way

      Thanks for commenting! Suffice it to say, I must respectfully disagree about ‘Europa Report’. In terms of exploring the themes that make science fiction great, I feel that ‘Europa Report’ better underpins the trappings of the genre, inhabiting the narrative with a sense of wonder that is often missing from the world of science fiction. I personally feel that ‘Gravity’ is a much more graphic exploitation of the concept that science fiction is a genre of ideas. I fully acknowledge that ‘Europa Report’ more readily places astronauts in the role of martyrs, but much like ‘Sunshine’, I find that personal sacrifice in the greater context of intellectual fulfillment is among the noblest resignations that mankind can offer, and I look forward to further discourse when I post my review of ‘Europa Report’!