Movie Review: ‘Gravity’

Posted Friday, October 4th, 2013 06:00 pm GMT -4 by

GravityI’m a big fan of hard sci-fi, so I’m the perfect audience for the new Alfonso Cuarón film ‘Gravity’. The trades had been abuzz for months with the camera techniques that were using during filming to create a true “zero gravity” effect and the IMAX 3D was supposed to be amazing.

And yet, when I finally saw the film, I found it rather boring.

It’s not that the special visual effects aren’t amazing, but because somewhere along the way film director Cuarón forgot some of the basic elements of a good movie, like a storyline. Like tension. And the ending? Rather predictable and unbelievable after what seems like a reasonably accurate sequence of events.

The film opens with astronauts Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Kowalski (George Clooney) preparing to launch a satellite from the Shuttle Explorer’s dock while orbiting the Earth. The Russians launch a rocket to destroy one of their dead satellites on the other side of the world and it produces an unexpected sea of fast-moving space debris. The problem is, in space, things are trapped by the Earth’s gravity so Stone and Kowalski are warned by mission control that the debris field is heading their way and it’s going to be a big problem.

Moments later it arrives and destroys both the unlaunched satellite and the shuttle itself. The two astronauts barely escape with their lives and are now marooned in space with little hope of rescue and, predictably, no working communications link with mission control back on Earth.

Fortunately there’s the International Space Station a few dozen kilometers away and it might just have an escape pod they can use to safely return to Earth before the debris circles the Earth again and rains more destruction on them. If they can get there.

Problem is, there’s surprisingly little tension for a film that could have easily been framed as a sort of floating ‘High Noon’. In fact, Stone and Kowalski very rarely even check their watches to see how much time remains before the next wave of debris will arrive (it’s a 90min orbital cycle), so instead of having the orbiting debris as a constant threat it’s more of an afterthought.

A comparison with the tension and psychological exploration featured in the otherwise dated 1969 space film ‘Marooned’ shows the problem: In ‘Gravity’ we never see ground control or anyone else not in space. Not a single shot of people on Earth struggling to solve the problem as the astronauts try to survive and retain their sanity in a terrifying situation.

Another comparison: ‘Apollo 13′. Part of what makes that a great film is the narrative constantly switching between NASA working like madmen trying to figure out what’s gone wrong on the Apollo craft to come up with a solution that’ll bring the astronauts safely home and the astronauts themselves trying to remain stoic as they face a horrible death.

None of that is in ‘Gravity’. Indeed, for all its technical beauty — and it really is a beautiful and technically amazing film — it’s just not much of a narrative movie at all. When the daft last scene played out and the credits began, I felt like I’d watched a slightly fictionalized “IMAX Space” rather than a gripping hard sci-fi film.

And truth be told, I’m really disappointed.

I like Cuarón as a director and have to give big kudos to Bullock who turns in a splendid performance as the neophyte astronaut Stone. The film really rests on her performance and she shows yet again why she is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. By contrast, Clooney is always the same cool, gravel-voiced character in all his films. Likable, but he has no range whatsoever as an actor.

I will recommend you go see this film in IMAX 3D or at least on the big screen. It’s not gripping, it has a number of narrative flaws and is definitely slow paced, but it’s also stunning on screen, truly offering a feel for what it would be like to be in space, in orbit above our planet. To the point where I won’t be surprised when the special effects team wins an Oscar for Technical Achievement.

That’s definitely worth the price of admission. My overall score for ‘Gravity’:

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The visual effects, however, get:

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  • J.O.

    After I saw this trailer in theaters, and Sandra Bullock’s character is floating away saying “What do I do, what do I do?!?”… I knew I was not interested. She is supposed to be a trained astronaut, right?? Don’t insult us Hollywood

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      No, she’s a scientist who is on her first mission to space. It’s not “The Right Stuff”, J.O., it’s more space as a frontier for research…

      • J.O.

        I understand. So I guess she didn’t get any training before they sent her up there? Still, it doesn’t really seem worth my time at least.

    • Daniel Hodgkins

      Pretty sure the “average” astronaut doesn’t have to deal with their shuttle being blown apart and their bodies hurled into strange orbits, but that’s just me. I would be surprised as well.

  • bsilverio20

    Boring? I respectfully disagree, Dave. I liked that ‘Gravity’ wasn’t like ‘Apollo 13′. By not cutting back to the people on Earth, it added to the feeling of isolation and vast nothingness a person would have to deal with if they were left alone in space. It offered a very different movie going experience that was not only beautifully stunning, but it managed to raise my heart rate right along with Dr. Stone as she fought for her life in the great unknown. It’s definitely one of the most interesting space movies that I’ve ever seen and (in agreement with you) people should definitely see it in IMAX 3D.

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      I really like that we disagree, because that’s what makes criticism interesting. But you’re wrong, Ben. It’s hardly an exciting film, but it’s definitely giving us a taste of what I imagine it’d be like being in space. Slow, floating, quiet, and hours of tedium punctuated by fractions of a second of terror. But as a cinematic experience? Slllooowwww….

      • Daniel Hodgkins

        Hours of tedium? It was a 90 minute movie.

        Did you even see it, shill?

        • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

          (yawn)

  • JasonMBowles

    Wow, really? I was hearing Academy Award buzz about this movie!

    • bsilverio20

      If it doesn’t win some technical awards, I will be so surprised. Then again, the Academy and I never agree on things.

      • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

        yeah, I talked to them about that last year, Ben, but I’m afraid it might not have done any good. We’ll see. :D

  • superdude

    Anyone with a science background will find this movie completely absurd. Must say, however, that the cinematography is exceptional.

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      How so? What did you “with your science background” find so absurd?

      • Daniel Hodgkins

        You’re a comic book reviewer. Shut the fsck up.

        • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

          Actually, I don’t read comic books. But feel free to spread your message of joy here, Daniel. :-)

      • PaperInTheWind

        Neil DeGrass Tyson twitted a lot of problems with the science. The problem is that unlike superdude, I do not have a science background, yet they are so plain in sight that they bothered me during viewing. The most jarring one is when George Clooney acted as if he was hanging on a cliff rather than space.

      • desert sand

        The “crashes” were done at normal speed, as if objects were banging around inside the earth’s atmosphere. I find it “absurd” everything moved so quickly against the confinements of traveling in a spacial orbit. I hear it takes lot of energy to crash, or move objects in space, or change from one level of orbit to a different level of orbit. Also, if objects in a fixed orbit, are moving at the same speed (inside or outside the capsule) why is space debris drifting off into different orbits, and catching up to the space station every few hours (as if the space station was lying on earth waiting for objects to hit it). Someone educate me about the astrophysics of our earth’s orbits…oops, wrong audience.

  • Simplemind

    This film is not at all boring and there is definitely a story.

    Best film of the year, no contest.

    • desert sand

      I wonder why you would think it was the “BEST” of all movies made in 2013? May I also question the wisdom in your usage of the term, “simplemind?”

  • JJJ

    I definitely did not want to see NASA. I was happy that Cuaron didn’t rely on that tired rescue mission trope that plagues Sci-fi space films. I think that would remove you from the intention of this film. This movie was very much about Ryan breaking down and becoming stronger. She is overcoming tragedy, overcoming her desire to shutdown and give up and overcoming her fears (of death loneliness, and failure in particular). This was never really a movie about “being in space.” Space is just a metaphor and a beautiful visual backdrop for these character building events to play out. It’s not based on a true story, not meant to play on science fiction or much reality (Let’s face it, there was an absurdity about the sequence of events that were survived in the film). I do not normally enjoy Sandra Bullock, but she was great in this film. Clooney was a little corny.

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      A thoughtful response. I can see where you’re coming from, J3, I just don’t quite see it that way, though if you can go into the theater anticipating the sllooowww pace of things (punctuated, as I said, with moments of intense terror that are still treated in an oddly detached way) then you too might find this to be greater than the sum of its special effects.

      • Daniel Hodgkins

        You only made this review to get attention. Same reason iFixit gave the new iPad a 1/5 repair rating, despite it actually being simpler than previous versions. All for attention.

        Admit it.

        • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

          Ha. You’re funny, Daniel. Thanks for that.

    • PaperInTheWind

      So to one fan, it’s real science, but to another, it’s not based on reality? Did you guys see the same movie?

      I do agree with you though. This whole movie feels like a hallucination of a grieving mother. Just think about sitting in a mental hospital with a crazy lady talking to you for 90 minutes, you would know bored I was.

      Another problem with the movie is that you don’t really care whether she survives or not for the most part. She didn’t seem to have anything to live for anyway.

    • desert sand

      No one liked Clooney, and he is the only one I liked. I agree NASA would have been a boring additive to…this film event (I won’t call it a plot).

  • Prometheus

    Sci-fi James Cameron declared Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” the “best space film ever.”

    And you call yourself a “hard sci fi fan”? you should call your self Shame.. I can see what is wrong with you, the film is based on Real science, So… stick to Star Wars…

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      Ayup, you nailed it. Because a film about science gets a free pass regardless of everything else that’s needed to make a solid cinematic experience.

      • JasonMBowles

        Neil DeGrasse Tyson actually poked a lot of holes in this movie, but, I mean… it’s a movie not a documentary. http://www.businessinsider.com/neil-degrasse-tyson-critiques-gravity-2013-10

        • tori

          And he also said that he actually enjoyed the movie despite the inaccuracies, soooo….

      • Daniel Hodgkins

        What kind of word is Ayup? Is it a P” esolang term?

        Doubt you remember any of that from your Computer Science bachelor years, tool.

    • Daniel Hodgkins

      He’s just a comic book reviewer… a typical low-life, ad-money addicted pundit.

    • PaperInTheWind

      And James Cameron, the director of smurfs in space should know.

      So in real science, two relatively stationary objects would move apart without force? It’s a science movie that got the science wrong.

  • Sarah

    WHAT? How do you call it not gripping? My husband, myself, my 16 yo son, my 12 yo daughter called it–all of us–one of the best movies of all time. Boring? Seriously, I never respond to these things but I’m flummoxed by your review. Did we see the same movie? It had one of the best story lines and like Breaking Bad on television, so much more happened in the spaces between dialogue.

    • Daniel Hodgkins

      He’s doing it for the attention. If he can stick out from the crowd for his negative review, he’ll get more views and more ad money. What a typical shill.

      Great movie by the way. I don’t see how Dave could compare it to a PBS documentary.

      • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

        You have no idea what you’re blathering on about, Daniel. I encourage you to take a deep breath and accept that different people have different perspectives and that me differing is just how life works. It’ll make you a much happier person. :-)

    • PaperInTheWind

      What exactly happened in the spaces between dialogue? All I saw was putting on cloth, taking off cloth, putting on cloth, taking off cloth. Now, if she wasn’t 50, it might have been a fun movie to watch. By the end of it, I was hoping a tiger would come out of the jungle and eat her. Or better yet, this was all an hallucination by a depressed mother after a suicide attempt, since she (and he) surely didn’t seem trained at times, yet too well trained at other times. The laws of physics also didn’t seems work in this dream world.

  • marsha malone

    He forgot the elements of a good movie, like a storyline? Were you sleeping during the movie? You state there was no tension? Dude, get off the Xanax, that was one of the most tense movies I have ever seen and it was tense from about 10 minutes in until the ending. You need another profession, soon.

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      Xanax? That’s your conclusion? Hmm… maybe you need to have a bit less Red Bull and accept that other people have different perspectives. Just sayin…

  • PaperInTheWind

    Another problem with the film is that there are no choices. Choices create tension, without choices, the tension quickly becomes boring. This movie plays much like a linear video game. Mission #1, catch the lady. Mission #2, go here. Mission #3, go there.Mission #4 start this ship. Mission #5, start the other ship. Other than giving up, there was no choices made. It’s a relentless dash in a straight line.

    One interesting exception was the choice made to pick up the dead body of another astronaut, which proved to be a fatal mistake. However, no attention was paid to the choice. It was presented as a no brainer and no thought was paid to it before or afterwards.

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      A good point. Tension comes from having to make decisions that might not get you towards the desired outcome (survival). In this film there were never any options, just a forward plod towards the somewhat inevitable outcome. Now had everyone have died or it faded to black as Bullock floated off into space, that would have been a very different tonal ending!

  • TRT0071

    This is the only time I can remember being so negative about a movie that was rated so incredibly high.

    Some of the visuals were great, but the story was lacking and at points in the movie I was just plain bored.

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      Glad to hear I’m not alone in not being blown away by “Gravity”.

  • Seether

    It was boring. I expected it to be better than that.

  • Michael Gunnison

    I was skeptical on how good this film would be. While I was waiting in line I overheard a older couple saying that they heard that Gravity was supposed to be as good as 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was thinking to my self hmm I doubt it is as good. Well sure enough when I watched it I was found to be right. This film does not even get close to being as good as 2001, not even close. There were several major inaccuracy’s in this film.

    *MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS*

    1.George Clooney is flying around the shuttle aimlessly with a thrust suit using up all his fuel for no reason. Later he will wish he had the fuel. Astronauts are very well trained and only use this suit when they need too.
    2. When the debris strikes them the first time and Bullock is very nearly lost Clooney attaches a lanyard to her so she can be pull behind him. Instead of her pulling in the slack thus not being jostled around while Clooney is towing her. She should be worried about it possibly snapping because it is so loose.
    3. In around the same scene while Clooney is towing her he keeps on talking to her and in return she talks back. She is extremely low on air in her suit at this point. You would think she would not speak to conserve her remaining air.

  • dave riley

    It is very creepy how much most people liked this movie. That is the real thing to discuss here. Perhaps the film contains subliminal messages or hypnotism of some sort convincing you its a great movie, but some of us are not wired for that?

    • http://www.askdavetaylor.com/ Dave Taylor

      it’s a plot. or people just loooovvveee special effects. :-)

      • dave riley

        Two ideas I have had:
        1) A govt experiment on mind control through the media
        2) Subliminal messages of some sort telling you how good the movie is

        In either case some people would be less prone to being “hypnotized”.

        I realize these are both pretty crazy but this is a science fiction website.

        • desert sand

          Very funny!

    • desert sand

      It is all about Hollywood buying “candy” they can resell. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney carry a lot of weight in Hollywood and probably put out the word…you scratch my back now and I’ll scratch your back when your movie is released.

  • Jennifer T.

    I totally agree with Dave Riley. C’mon, a frog in the ocean? Lol. Sigh.

    • dave riley

      Well, as far as that goes it was a lake.

      • Kelly

        It was so odd because my friend and I were sitting there laughing the entire time because debris, fire etc. only started flying when Dr. Ryan was around. She was a magnet for disaster. Now while the effects in 3D were pretty cool, the movie itself was super boring. I thought I was at a museum just watching their free movie of the day. Except that we had paid $30, and honestly, I relate the storyline to the movie with Will Smith and his son, “After Earth”. They were both terrible movies.

      • Jennifer T.

        Thank goodness it was a lake; now Dr. Ryan only has to find food, or go frog catching. But of course they didn’t show that part. (It’s for the sequel!!) something to look forward to guys!! Another boring adventure where we have to wait and wait as Dr. Ryan sits and watches the lake for frogs.

  • Jack Stubbington

    Basically I viewed this movie as nothing more than a ninety minute Universal Studios thrill ride. A second rate thriller with a weak storyline devoid of any character development. Again another classic example of how CGI means nothing without a well thought out storyline and a good script.

    • desert sand

      You nailed it!

  • drew

    We all knew the story was gunna be a void…and the visuals were obviously great but theyshould have had waaaaaay more shots of just floating in space slower..
    things in the background slooowly fading to get a real sense of drifting away. They had the chance to do somthing great and epic and in my opinion completely ruined the chance. It should have been at least 2 hours long with an improved plotline and longer lonely awesomer space vistas the audience wouldnt mind watching cuz the plot.. because its the best visual canvas for….visuals!! Empty Space! cleary no director needed on this set just some dudes with computers.

  • drew

    Instead its an hour and fifteen minute dissapointment. Maybe if they didnt market it so much i wouldnt be this let down.

  • Kris

    Expected more. But it was not bad. At all.. but..

    At times it felt like watching Transformers… shouting, rushing, talk talk talk.. And the music was just too dramatic, ´big´, sudden. Like being driven over by an big beutiful truck ´Waauw uhh´.. but it Hurts so much (and i like trucks).., while small talking, and hearing music at the same time.

    Wanted to shout, “ahh shut up!” .. “grab that!”.. “get going!”..
    very realistic settings, the Space station, scuttle etc. But it just felt… they could have done so much better.
    But i got to give it to them. When ryan, for example was barking to the radio like a dog, in joy. And then breaking apart in tears. was gripping.
    Wish they kept more crew alive for longer
    fewer near death/close call scenes
    less jibberish
    more suspence.

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  • Jim

    I found it all a bit ridiculous, both scientifically and in terms of plot development. Events seemed freakishly implausible, and Stone’s survival largely a matter of absurd luck. I also felt there was a lack of emotional depth or enough reason for us to care about the fate of any of the characters.

    I enjoyed the special effects, and the atmosphere (teehee) of the characters’ experience in Space.

    • desert sand

      I did feel for George Clooney’s character because he gave his life for her ineptness.

  • desert sand

    Everyone seems to love the movie, “Gravity,” or maybe “they” the “movie critics” are just afraid to criticize it. I simply do not get it. The special effects were fantastic! Yes, I agree, but…the plot was so simple I was bored. Nothing really happened. I can get more “plot” out of an old “B” movie like “It Came from Outer Space.” I kept watching, and waiting for a subplot…throw me a George Clooney bone, anything. Sandra Bullock was ok in it, but I was so tired of her depending on George Clooney’s character to save her…and the whining, the whining just went on and on throughout most of the movie. I guess I just wanted her to be more “professional,” or tough like the Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Aliens.” I was so disappointed to see George Clooney, the only interesting actor in the movie, drift off into oblivion. I kept hoping the camera would follow him. Oh, well…maybe in the sequel they will go looking for him and call it “Gravity 2, In Search of George.” I gave it a rating of 6 out of 10 for the great special effects…but, “special effects” does not make a movie folks!

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