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Movie Review: "Gravity"

CCurmudgeon logo newBY VAN ROBERTS

“Children of Men” director Alfonso Cuarón’s lost-in-space saga “Gravity” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney qualifies as an above average science fiction film.  Basically, this authentic looking outer space epic deserves Oscars for its special effects and production designs.  Arguably, “Gravity” belongs to the sub-genre of factual science fiction films like Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” (1995), John Sturges’ “Marooned” (1969), and Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968).  Unfortunately, “Gravity” suffers from a devastating case of narrative anti-climax.  In other words, after the catastrophic opening scene, nothing comparable occurs during its remaining 80 minutes.  Worse, the astronaut who survives this disaster turns out to be a dull, tight-lipped individual with no family back on Earth.  Despite its white-knuckled gauntlet of predicaments, the thinly-plotted “Gravity” has little to offer other than some modest thrills when our hero and heroine are walking in space.  This straightforward, no-nonsense, claustrophobic thriller boasts a false surprise and a string of unlikely but plausible incidents.  Imagine a movie built around a house fire with an individual battling to escape the blaze narrowly before everything burn up, and then put the burning edifice into orbit, and you’ve got “Gravity.”  Aside from its female protagonist, little about this $100 million outing is fresh.  The result is a scenic but second-rate chick flick that relies on pure action rather than plot.
“Gravity” takes place about 375 miles above Earth.   Astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney of “Solaris”) and Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock of “The Heat”) are members of the NASA space shuttle Explorer.  They have been dispatched to perform repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope.  Terror occurs with little warning when Russian space debris from one of their own satellites that they destroyed strikes the space shuttle and kills everybody but Stone and Kowalski.  A good ole boy from the top of his head to the tips of his toes, the extroverted but avuncular Kowalski is a veteran astronaut on his final mission before he retires.  You can guess what happens to him in “Gravity.”  During her first walk in space, Mission Specialist Stone is conducting the repairs.  She has trouble dealing with the zero gravity conditions.  Occasionally, she forgets that tools and parts float rather than fall, and she almost loses a part of a board that she is fixing.  Stone and Kowalski learn from Mission Control (voice of Ed Harris of “Apollo 13”) that they must abort their mission.  The debris of a Russian satellite blasted in space is the equivalent of flying shrapnel that wipes out everybody aboard the Explorer and leaves Stone and Kowalski adrift.  Kowalski wears a thruster pack that enables him to save Stone, but they cannot evacuate in the Explorer because the shuttle has been damaged badly.  Instead, maneuvering with his thrusters, Kowalski drags Stone with him to the International Space Station.  At this point, things take a turn for the worst.  Kowalski quotes “Star Wars” hero Han Solo’s popular line: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”  One of the astronauts dies so the other can live and leaves the other to contend with a challenging ordeal.  Get back home to tell a whopper of a story or die in space.gravity-movie-poster
Anybody who has heard astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s criticisms about “Gravity” should bear in mind that it is a Hollywood movie that takes liberties with fact.  Tyson would probably have improved “Gravity” in some small measure had the filmmakers used him as a consultant rather than Dr. Kevin Grazier who has served as an advisor for the SyFy-channel.  Intelligent adults who paid to watch “Gravity” shouldn’t be too concerned about the lack of authentic realism that disturbed Tyson.  Ironically, even Tyson has gone on record to say he enjoyed “Gravity.”  Meantime, for all its realism, “Gravity” amounted to something of a letdown for me because it just was more one-dimensional than entertaining.  First, neither of the two characters is particularly charismatic.  Second, the 3-D doesn’t enhance space or the vehicles where our heroes seek refuge.  Rarely does 3-D work as it was originally designed, and the glasses are a nuisance from fade-out to fade-in that they hinder you from enjoying a movie.  3-D was designed so you could dodge all the stuff that filmmakers hurled at you to generate a greater sense of excitement.  Nothing of consequence flies at you in “Gravity.”  Third, despite some fleeting moments of nail-biting anxiety, you know that once Cuarón and his son Jonas who co-wrote “Gravity” have whittled down the two person cast (everybody else is a voice) to one that they aren’t going to kill the last individual in space.  Watching this survivor fool with a fire extinguisher, punch buttons on a console, and cry because nobody briefed this person about how to pray isn’t my idea of a good movie.  I’d rather watch space hokum like either “Space Camp” or “Apollo 18” because one made a great ‘what-if’ fable and the other was a horror chiller about why we haven’t returned to the Moon.  Finally, the best thing about “Gravity” is that it clocks in at 90 minutes.  It remains to be seen how NASA will respond if “Gravity” makes believers out of all of us that space is the last place we should spend our tax dollars.  I’d rather watch “Apollo 18” again with its cannibal moon rocks than the prosaic “Gravity.”

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