Friday, October 11, 2013

Review of 'Gravity' Film (Minor spoilers)


        Gravity is some of the most intense LEO (low Earth orbit) action you will ever see.  It’s been critically praised, and as a sci-fi and science fan myself, I love it as well!  Do I even need to mention there are some minor spoilers below???  Also, if you can’t tell, my recommendation is to see it.  4.25 out of 5 stars.  Won’t change your life, but it will entertain you for 90 minutes as you constantly formulate ways to get out of these seemingly impossible messes.

Things It Did Well (or Amazingly Well)

No Fat
How many movies do you always think, “Geez, it really slowed down when they started talking about x-y-z.”?  A ton right?  So many movies are so overly bloated with “fluff” just till fill in the pages between the actual core plot.  Sure there are some movies that demand such superfluous expository, especially those based on tomes (i.e. “The Lord of the Rings”), but the majority of movies, especially action movies, don’t we just want the plot progressed through effectively and attractively?  No need to included non-contributory plotlines that involve flashbacks and other relational banter – when really they don’t help make the movie any more intriguing, nor do we really care about.  Gravity keeps it thin on tangents.  In retrospective, I can’t seem to think of one scene that I felt wasn’t needed or helpful in advancing the plots.  90 minutes is a perfect playing time for a move such as this.

No Mercy
One of my favorite science-fiction short stories ever is a small story called, “The Cold Equations” (apparently they made a TV movie in 1996 based on it, and a Twighlight Zone episode) in which depicts the merciless nature the scientific laws of the universe operate, with no regard or compassion for life.  Though Gravity allows for some extremely fortuitous circumstances to occur (see “Suspension of Belief” below) to the main character, the main thrust of the harrowing experience is based in the ruthlessness of space.  This premise, though heartless, is real – and unlike so many space-based movies, gives the film a level of credibility and veracity rare in this genre.

Accuracy (see also “Inaccuracy” below)
Jumping on the above point, Gravity is filled with scientific accuracies.  I’m not astrophysicists or astronaut, but it is widely reported that much of what takes place, albeit fiction, is based in factual premises.  Sure it’s great to see the Millennium Falcon jump to hyperspace, but it’s also refreshing to see how life in space really is and having humans subjected to the laws of the universe that we actually live in.  The filming/SFX sans-gravity is quite believable.
Side Note:  LEO space debris is a real issue and though the scenario depicted in the movie is extremely catastrophic and unlikely considering already-in-place contingencies, it is still a real threat. 

The main reason I don’t like 3D is because it’s always so darn dark!  Sure Avatar did a great job and The Hobbit in HFR 3D definitely was the most bright iteration I’ve seen, but for the most part I think it’s just a novelty (mostly unimpressive) that Hollywood has been trying to push down our throats for years now trying to eke out as many extra dollars from us as they can (love the new trend of theaters offering “discount” nights during the week!).   Gravity in 3D seems less like novelty and more like ubiquity, as if the movie clearly is more comfortable in 3D as opposed to its less fortunate counterpart.  Distinctly three dimensions very much helps in the spatial ambiguity of space for sure as well.  There’s not a ton of background to gauge distance and space in general…having the three dimensions clearly delineated definitely helps (that said, I have not seen the 2D version).

Clearly Sandra Bullock and George Clooney carry this film.  They’re likeable, believable, and genuinely care about how this situation, seemingly bleak beyond despair, is going to turn out.  Ed Harris as the voice of Houston mission-control was a subtle casting masterstroke.

Ever see a sunset over the Nile River Valley from 150 miles above the Earth?  Well now you can.  It’s breathtaking, and I’m just watching it from the comfort of my theater seat.  The visuals are amazing, and if you aren’t drawn towards at least the possible conclusion that there is a benign Creator behind it all…well I’d say you were fighting something.

Fragility of Life in 99.999999999999999999999999999% of the universe
Sharing the same sentiments as “No Mercy” above, the movie is a 90 minute manifestation of how pretty much almost the absolute majority of the universe operates.   It’s cold, quiet, and dark.  Advanced life (and even the simplest organic life) is so sensitive in the cosmic scheme of things, it’s almost inane to think it could exist anywhere.  The fact that we humans do exist, and in a relatively comfortable locale, is a miracle beyond miracles.  Stepping outside the comfort of our atmospheric “bubble” is another story.  Gravity gets that fragility pretty well.

Music and sounds
Perfectly associated with the environment and tension. 

Space Exploration Contributions
So without revealing the whole plot, despite starting the mission off on Space Shuttle, the characters do have interaction with the International Space Station (ISS), a Russian escape pod, and Chinese station as well.  Despite some of the interaction being slightly unbelievable, I like how the movie acknowledged the breath of space exploration and contributions among many nations.  We won’t talk about how the how “debris issue” may have been started though…

Fire extinguisher thrust
Come on, any space-loving person has always wanted to propel themselves across said vacuum with a fire extinguisher.

Things I Wasn’t So Fond of

Asking for Too Much Suspension of Belief
I don’t know…there’s a scene in the movie that the main character has a dream/vision/enlightenment that is very convenient to move the plot along.  I’m not saying this doesn’t fit in a movie…but considering how realistic, by-the-book they go most of the movie, this little episode feels a little out of place.  Also, the amount of death-defying feats accomplished in this movie borders on cartoonish.  Makes for great action and thrill…but slightly unrealistic no matter how entertaining.

No Rapport?
So you have a major Hubble Space Telescope repair mission via the vaunted USA Space Shuttle Program…and two crew-members don’t know anything about each other…and one of them is a rookie with only six months of training?  Yeah, I don’t think that’s how NASA operates its prime personnel.

Stations so close?
As I mention above, the story follows to characters to multiple space objects in LEO.  Considering the Earth’s diameter is 7,918 miles and LEO is between 99 and 1,200 miles, we’re talking about a circumferential range of 25,484 miles to 32,398 miles.  I know there are like 2000+ satellites currently in LEO, but considering the vastness we’re talking about here, is it really feasible such prominent satellites and stations would be so closely accessible to each other?  I highly doubt it.

‘Thank You’ to Whom?
There’s a point in the movie one of the main characters escapes death…and says an ambiguous “thank you” to the air.  There are subtle moments of religion dipped in this mortality-awareness movie (a prayer allusion here, a Buddha statue there), but they never seem to have any certain grounding.  Was the “thank you” to God, to Buddha, to processes of biological evolution?  Beats me.

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