When the trailer for Gravity started making the rounds a couple of weeks ago it, portrayed a seriously intense survival story set in one of the most hostile environments known to man: the vacuum of space. While a man vs. nature survival story is hardly new to film, the unique setting, sharp visuals and intense action looked prime to keep moviegoers on the edge of their seats and their blood pressure elevated.
I even remember remarking to a friend in response to the trailer that I wasn’t even sure I could physically handle watching Gravity if the trailer were truly representative of the film.
Last evening I had the opportunity to view an advanced screening of the new Warner Bros. film starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Gravity certainly has many intense moments as outlined in the trailers, but in the end Gravity falls much faster and harder than it ever rises.
The film opens with a group of astronauts working on what appears to be a fairly routine satellite repair mission, which we quickly learn is actually the Hubble telescope. First-time astronaut, medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is installing a new scanner as seasoned astronaut, Mission Commander Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) tests a new jet pack on his last EVA before retirement. Yeah, they are pretty much all doomed by all traditional movie standards, and of course it doesn’t take long before everything goes to hell.
Moments before the crew finishes their job NASA informs them that the Russians, it’s always the damn Russians, have just shot down one of their own satellites and that there is some debris circulating in orbit. While we, the viewers, all know what is about to happen it takes another minute or two before the situation turns for the worse, and a cloud of Russian spy satellite turned cloud of shrapnel tears through the group and its shuttle. Ryan is sent tumbling into space and soon most of the shuttle and the Hubble join the shrapnel cloud. Conveniently for Ryan, though, Kowalsky was testing that jet pack and is able to retrieve her before she is forced to drift the cosmos forever like Bender in that episode of Futurama where he becomes, and then meets, God. Thus we begin the man vs. nature (and a cloud of satellite shrapnel) story.
It is hard to talk much about the rest of the film without giving away major spoilers, so to keep it concise and not give too much away, what follows is a very predicable cycle of “We’re saved! No wait, we’re screwed!” moments. As is too common in these types of films, destruction conveniently follows the protagonist; in fact for a story involving constant peril and everything going wrong there is an abundance of convenient plot points. Additionally we simply do not get enough screen time with George Clooney’s character, as it was the only character that was really interesting or compelling. In fact, for the entire film we never leave Ryan’s side, and even after seeing Gravity I’m still not convinced that Sandra Bullock has the acting chops and screen presence to so completely carry a film.
The non-stop threats to their livelihood, while often heart-racing in the moment, start to get old after a while. The director himself (Alfonso Cuarón) even seems to nearly acknowledge this when Ryan is momentarily hindered in a late scene for no apparent reason other than to just be a dick to the character. When the audience starts to laugh at the ridiculousness of everything being against her you may be overdoing it, and the audience did indeed laugh out loud. The real problem though may be that quite frankly the film never really makes us care about the characters much. Outside of an earlier, off-screen, tragedy in Ryan’s life that is sort of shoe-horned into the film to give the character more perceived depth, she is bordering on boring. Compound this with how off the pacing sometimes is in Gravity and you wind up with a film that has a scene where the major character contemplates calling it quits that goes on for so long that it has you almost wanting her to. You just wanted the damn scene and the whole ordeal to be over (or at least you don’t seem to mind the idea of the main character giving up, even if you aren’t rooting for it). By the end, I never really cared if the characters made it or not.
Gravity doesn’t fail to impress in some very key areas though. Cinematography, especially in the first twenty minutes or so of the film is spectacular and the special effects look great the majority of the time. I had the fortunate (or unfortunate) luck to see the film’s 3D version though, and can say that it is not worth the upgrade. Perhaps I am alone in my opinion, but I find 3D to be a marketing gimmick at its’ very best; and Gravity is not 3D at its’ very best. Most of the 3D effects are cheesy and take away from the film (as you can probably guess it is used 99% of the time for having shrapnel or a random floating object flying at the screen). The opening scene of the film is mildly enhanced by the 3D though, as the pristine white suits of the astronauts really pop against the black background of space. The film’s score was mostly subtle and fit the film very well but the opening and closing songs were obscenely loud, as in way louder than the rest of the film for no perceived reason. Hopefully something that is fixed before the film is released on October 4th.
Also, at least one note in the opening credits is wrong; some life can indeed survive in space (humans though, not so much).
When all is said and done Gravity is an ok film, and that is about it. There are some really heart-pumping action moments, and plenty of “Oh c’mon, really?” moments as well. Character development is flat, so flat that is can hardly be called development, and while you certainly aren’t rooting for them to die, it is hard to care much more than at a basic level. Gravity mostly suffers from letting you down; the concept and style of the film has so much potential, you really want it to be amazing. As a result when it turns out to just be kind of average it is quite the disappointment. It is worth seeing, but maybe catch a matinee.
Final Rating: 6/10
CBR Break Down:
How it was viewed: Theater (3D)
Running time: 90 min
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Recommend viewing: The special effects make a theater trip worth considering.
Current price: N/A
Why you should see it: Some amazing special effects and cinematography.
Why you shouldn’t see it: Despite all the action it is rather dull and boring.