Movies are a mixture of art and business. That is just one of the many intelligent insights the Red Letter Media guys have said about movies. I can’t think of a better example of this than the 2013 movie Gravity.
This movie won 7 academy awards for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Score. Every one of these awards is warranted and I vividly remember loving this movie when I saw it twice in theaters.
After re-watching the movie again through more cynical eyes, I still believe the movie is impressive, but far from being great. Of all of the awards the movie won, you will notice none of them are for the acting, they all involve the technical aspects of a movie. This movie is incredible in its visuals, music, and direction, but scientific accuracy and acting leaves much to be desired.
Staying Sandra Bullock as Doctor Ryan Stone and George Clooney as Matt Kowalski, this movie has a miscue cast. Mission control is voiced by Ed Harris, and a third astronaut is played by someone not worthy enough to be listed on the Wikipedia page as he is only there to die in the opening scene.
Stone is a biomedical engineer making some repairs on the Hubble Telescope orbiting earth while Kowalski is floating around overseeing the operation while laying out some exposition. As they are on their spacewalk, Houston warns them of a Russian Satellite that was destroyed sending debris in low orbit. This debris eventually reaches the telescope and their shuttle, destroying them and nearly killing Stone and Kowalski. The debris destroyed all of the communication satellites in what is known as the Kessler Syndrome ending communication with NASA and as Kowalski dramatically stated “half of North America just lost their facebook.”
This is an interesting concept that director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) explores. Through all of the space missions over the past 60 or so years, lots of dead satellites and space debris has been left in the orbit of Earth. While in orbit the debris travels faster than a moving bullet making them catastrophic if they collide with anything. If they do collide with other objects, they will increase the space trash problem by adding even more debris in orbit which increases the odds of more collisions, and more debris, getting worse until space travel is impossible (Kessler Syndrome). This movie shows how fucked up things will get if the space trash problem isn’t resolved.
Watching this movie in the theater was one of the best theater experiences I can remember. It was such a beautiful movie to see on the big screen. It was shot and released in 3D leading to some egregious 3D gimmick shots (a lose screw floating towards the viewer, floating tears, etc..) but it also added a level of enjoyment as the destructive debris played an important role in the movie and was used well in a 3D movie.
The destruction is remarkable and well shot. The music (created by Steven Price) fits the situations perfectly creating a tense and horrifying atmosphere. The characters and acting are not on the same level as the direction and cinematography.
Sandra Bullock is ok in her role, not great, but not terrible either. She looks amazing in the movie physically for being 50 years old at the time. Is it wrong of me to suspect digital de-aging? George Clooney played a predictable charming Clooney character who happened to be on the last spacewalk of his career when the shuttle was destroyed (a very Hollywood coincidence). He was close to breaking the all-time spacewalk record, which he ended up breaking with the destruction of the shuttle.
This movie is about the character of Dr. Stone. She isn’t stoked about being as astronaut and when the debris destroyed the shuttle, she panicked and had to be rescued by Kowalski. As the movie progresses she slowly becomes a different person leaving her old life, in which she struggles with the guilt of her dead daughter. Imagery of her being reborn and overcoming adversity are spread throughout the movie and come to a close in a symbolic final scene.
I love the premise and can overlook the grandma enticing card board characters but I cannot overlook the scientific inaccuracies. The most glaring of which is traveling via jet pack to the International Space Station. That is a long ass distance and without hyper accurate GPS, reaching the station would be impossible. It was established that Dr. Stone was running out of oxygen early in their impossible journey to the ISS but yet long winded exposition and characterization filled conversations were had, requiring her to breathe more and use up the precious oxygen.
(Spoiler) When Dr. Stone escapes the ISS and flies to the Chinese Space station, she didn’t have any ability to properly land. So when she got close she ejected from her pod and used a fire extinguisher as a jet pack to hoover to the space station. No. That is impossible.
Overall this movie is astonishing in its visuals, tense music, and difficult cinematography. The corny characters and symbolism mixed with the corporate Hollywood flair was not deserving of the artistic and skillful direction.