Gravity: A Review

Alan and I saw Gravity together when I visited him over Thanksgiving.  So we thought it would be a super fun idea to do a joint review for you all.  Or fun for us, anyway.  ;) 

To start this in the blandest way possible, I liked Gravity.  The movie was beautifully shot, the effects were incredible, and it's a tightly-paced thrill ride of a movie.  But (and you knew there had to be a "but" here) that's really it.  Nothing about the movie stuck with me after we saw it.  Let's go back to the last thrill ride of a movie I saw, The Avengers.  After The Avengers, I felt elated.  Various scenes and bits of dialogue were running through my mind on the way home and for days afterwards.  When you and I walked out of Gravity, we talked a bit about what we had just seen, but I don't think we mentioned it again for the rest of your visit.  Maybe the insanity that was Immortals pushed it out of our head, but I'm not so sure.  Maybe it's just that the movie is all about the ride.  Beyond that, it's kind of empty.  The characterizations are paper thin (80% of George Clooney's character development was provided by the music he listened to), and I certainly wouldn't call any of the dialogue memorable.  And really, when I think about our conversation after the movie, we talked about how different this portrayal of space travel was than “Star Trek”.  Were we really talking about Gravity or just the realities of where our technology is when it comes to dealing with the brutal environment of space versus the traveling living room that is the bridge of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D version, of course)?

Again, I liked the movie, and I certainly respect the movie making and technical skills that allowed it to be made.  Commercials for it are calling Gravity the performance of Sandra Bullock's career, though.  Really?  She spends most of the movie either gasping for breath, grunting with effort, or shouting/screaming in panic.  She's given a tragic backstory, but I really believe this was a shortcut to getting the audience's sympathy so that the film's pace is barely slowed.  Honestly, though, I think she had a more interesting character in Speed.  She certainly showed more personality.  Gravity isn't really about characters, though.  It's about the situation and watching these barely sketched-out people struggling to deal with it.  They have little more depth than the victims in a horror film, but that doesn't matter because we're dragged along by the film's rapid pace and incredible effects.  I'm glad I saw it on the big screen, but this isn't a movie I can see myself going back to again and again.

I'm hard pressed to disagree with much you said on Gravity, really.  I usually like to have a contrary opinion just because that's how I roll but honestly what is there to say?  It's gorgeous.  It really is breath-snatching in its beauty.  It's chilling because on a big enough screen you can actually viscerally feel a fraction of the expanse of space and how panic-inducing the situation would be.  It's technically an absolute marvel.  (So much so that some hapless reporter during the requisite press tour for the film asked Cuaron what it was like to shoot in space.  Which I dearly hope was a joke.)  But beyond that there's not much.  There's not a lot of substance.  It's a tight, precise, intent film.  It is exactly as long as it needs to be, no more.  It doesn't belabor points, it doesn't dress things up with bells and whistles and a lot of unnecessary frilly dialogue, it doesn't even really waste time on character development.  And having said that, the character development actually spared for Sandra Bullock's character feels forced and tacked on by some studio head for the purpose of a sympathy bid more than anything organic.  I learned more about George Clooney's character with far less obvious writing than I ever learned about her.  Having said that, I will say this: I don't think character development is the point.  I don't think anything besides what Gravity does exceptionally well is the point.  It appears entirely designed to immerse you, the viewer, in the savage expanse of space for ninety or so minutes without any way for you to catch your breath.  It's like a roller coaster: get in, buckle up, hold on.  It's a thrill ride on a screen (how many times has that phrase been used for this movie now, I wonder).  And at that it wildly excels.  I think lobbing criticism at it for not being something else is missing the point of what it actually is.  

I will also say that were I to be trapped in space, I wouldn't be.  There's no way in hell I would want to be in either character's shoes.  I would never ever want to be in space unless I was sipping Earl Grey in my Troi-esque bunny suit in the living room - er BRIDGE - of the Enterprise.  Nothing about space as it is shown in Gravity is remotely appealing to me.  The movie, however, was incredibly entertaining from a "hell no, there's no way, omigod" perspective.  It's a taut ninety minutes, for sure.

I will further say that if I were to become trapped in space through machinations beyond my control (and clearly beyond all reason) I would definitely want to be trapped with George Clooney over Sandra Bullock.  No offense, Sandy, but you are way more fun in just about every other movie ever.  I'd be trapped in space with Miss Congeniality Sandy but not this Sandy.  Gorgeous George is so much more fun and if we're analyzing doomsday scenarios (which, for me, this would be which is not in any way a commentary on what it is or isn't for them) I'd rather face dire circumstances grinning and singing than freaking out and re-living past trauma.  I'm just saying.

Also, Alan, didn't we also address the Ed Harris issue as we left the theatre?  Basically there is now an Ed Harris Space Flight Law.  If you are an astronaut and Ed Harris is the voice of Houston, you are fucked.  Abort the mission before countdown and exit your rocket, man.  It's the only sensible course of action.  Because if there's anything Hollywood has taught us it's that Ed Harris as Control is not a good sign for space missions.

Honestly, you don't want Ed Harris in a control room period.  Look at The Truman Show.  The man is a menace on a microphone.
Anyway, we both seem to be in complete agreement about Gravity.  It's great at being what it is, but these people trying to make it something more (like that critic who called it Bullock's best performance) are indeed missing the point.  It's a finely-tuned thrill ride.  I also completely agree about Clooney.  His character was clearer with less manipulative garbage, and he'd be the one to be stuck with.  Of course, that was kind of the point.  He was an old pro.  The reasons for Bullock's character to be working on the Hubble never made sense to me anyway.  She's a medical doctor.  I don't care if they did find a way to adapt something she designed for use in the Hubble, I can't imagine any scenario in which they'd send her up to do the work.  That's totally not the point of the film, though.  She needed to be a space newbie for the purposes of the story.  My nitpicking does not apply.

Back in the day I used to have a movie rating system wherein I gave a film Spaceys instead of stars.  Five Spaceys out of five was essentially a perfect film (so, basically, The Grifters, by way of example).  It’s because I was obsessed with Kevin Spacey and what a damn fine actor he is.  Now I wonder if traditions such as star and thumb rankings have had their time?  Aren’t reviews now more nuanced and less merit badge in direction?  It’s about critiquing artistry on a lot of levels and can an entire film really be crassly summed up in an arbitrary number of stars?  Well yes, it can.  I’d give Gravity 3.5 Spaceys.  Maybe 4 but it would have to bribe me.  It’s a great thrill ride (every time a Gravity review says ‘thrill ride’ an astronaut gets an oxygen tank) and I strongly urge you to see it on the big screen but I’m not about to sit here and tell you I think Gravity is on a par with The Grifters because that’s just foolishness.

 - Corinne Simpson and Alan Decker