Gravity (Movie Review)

How do you survive the worst-possible scenario in space and make it back to Earth alive? Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is an engineer on special assignment to fix a prototype component her team built for the Hubble Telescope. Leading the crew is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is field-testing a new Manned Maneuvering Unit on his last mission out.

In the opening scene, they get news that a planned detonation of a Russian satellite has misfired, leaving them just minutes to abort mission before they get bombarded by shrapnel. However, they can’t even get back into the shuttle before thousands of metal shards rip through them. By the time the field passes, only Stone and Kowalski are left alive and the shuttle has been destroyed. Their only hope is to get to the escape pods on the International Space Station before the shrapnel field can complete another orbit and hit them again.

All of this happens within the first 20 minutes. The rest of the movie is them trying to make it home.

I’ll tell you this: Gravity is a visual feast and, save for one issue I’ll get to later, one of the most accurate sci-fi films to date. Intense action scenes and sweeping panoramic shots give an almost overwhelming sense of how expansive space is and how easily you can die in it.

There were a few places where they fudged the rules of space a bit, but it was done cleverly and you can tell they took pains to keep it to a minimum. For example, when things start exploding, a lot of the “sounds” you hear is actually the music. The actual sound effects were much more subtle. In the first scene, Stone was using a cordless socket wrench, which did make a sound, but it was like what you would hear if you were hearing the vibrations of the motor through her space suit. Fantastically done.

However, as epic the visuals are, the story is as non-existent. The premise I laid out in the first paragraph is honestly about 90% of the entire story. I left out the plot twists and the ending, but there it is. The scads of eye candy make up for most of it, but there’s still a sticking point with Ryan Stone herself.

Throughout the film, I kept finding myself asking, “Why is she even in space?” The fact that she isn’t a full-time astronaut is made clear from the start, but at times her inexperience bordered on incompetence. More than that, there’s no compelling reason why she needed to be in space in the first place. She was doing diagnostic work. In real life she would have been assisting the astronauts from Mission Control, but it’s her inexperience that drives a lot of what happens in the movie, so much so that I can’t see how the film could have worked without it.

Character-as-plot-device issues aside, Gravity is still a thrilling, visual stunner. If you’re a sci-fi nut or crave action it’s worth going to the theater. If not, then I still say it’s worth renting.

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