Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gravity – reviewed.

The rave reviews and building intrigue got to me. I went to go see Gravity.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect. No bad reviews? That’s a gamble.

After all, when people rave about movies, there’s a safe bet they won’t be good. Half of the movies that earn Academy Awards each year are more boring than entertaining.

Meanwhile, how was a 90-minute moving going to be able to capture my attention when the focus is on an astronaut being stranded in space?

Well, the reviews were right and the movie had my attention from the get go.

So if you see any headlines that say, ‘Gravity soared,’ ‘Gravity was out of this world!,’ ‘Get pulled in by Gravity’ or any other cheesy puns, you can probably believe them.

It wasn’t the best movie ever. It was groundbreaking in a way though. It’s essentially just two actors – Sandra Bullock and George Clooney – in a weightless, soundless environment.

I’m not sure how accurate their depiction of space was (moreso than Star Trek and Star Wars, I’m sure), but you won’t see Superman speeding faster than a bullet or laser beam wars amongst giant spaceships.

There were a lot of camera shots that started in one spot and moved with the actors, as they floated along at a sluggish pace (it is space, after all).

The effects were very detailed too. I don’t know how much, if any, of that footage was from an actual trip outside Earth’s atmosphere, but it was convincing.

One major issue I had with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and, more recently, The Hobbit was the horrible special effects. A lot of those two movies didn’t look real at all. I know they are fantasy or sci-fi movies, but if I wanted to watch a computer-animated sequence, I’d watch The Lorax or Brave.

Back to Gravity though.

Despite the fact that the movie moved at a slower pace than most, it didn’t fail to be suspenseful. It was action-packed in it’s own sense.

The characters faced a crap-load of obstacles in Gravity – more than I’d expected. Every story – whether in book or movie form – is about characters facing (and usually overcoming) obstacles, but I had a hard time imagining any greater obstacles than being dislodged from a shuttle's transporter into space. The writers did a nice job coming up with ways to make the movie a maze of obstacles though.

There was a good bit of comedy in the movie too, which was nice considering the fact that the movie is about an astronaut being lost in space.

Sandra Bullock’s line – “Space sucks.” – had me laughing. The stories that Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) were telling at the beginning of the movie made for a nice light hearted start to the movie too.

Real Life pondering moment #1: was that Thomas Haden Church’s voice as Houston? It sure sounded like him. Turns out it wasn't. It was Ed Harris.

Both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney successfully made me forget that they were Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

They became their characters and, by the end of the movie, I wasn’t thinking about whether or not Bullock would get an Oscar, but whether or not she’d survive.

Kudos to them for that.

In a movie with so little effects or location changes, the acting has to be up to par and it was.

Who would think that two actors in front of a green screen (filled in by the blackness of space) with long camera shots could work so well for 90 minutes? Like I said, it’ll probably be considered a groundbreaking movie in that aspect.

Gravity is not a movie I’d buy on DVD though. It’s kind of like Lost. Once you know what happens, there’s not much point in getting the DVD. A lot of what made the movie for me was trying to figure out what was wondering what exactly was going to happen and how it was going to end.

Still, I don’t think most people will be upset they spent money to go see it (or rent it down the road).

Ok – here’s your warning: spoilers ahead!

We have to talk about the ‘controversial’ scene, the ending and the plot.

Only continue reading if you’ve seen the movie or if you don’t mind hearing how it ends....

The scene that most everyone had probably scene in the previews --- where Ryan Stone's transporter gets snapped in half – happened very early in the movie. I believe it was within the first 10 minutes or so.

I was expecting that. I wasn’t sure how they’d make the rest of the movie entertaining from that point. I predicted there would be lots of flashbacks (there weren’t any) or that George Clooney’s character --- Matt Kowalski --- had a jet pack. Turns out he did. He came to her rescue, preventing the need for 80 minutes of flash backs and slowly dying due to decreasing oxygen levels.

I was surprised at how far and how long Stone went tumbling through space. That scene lasted for a while. Without gravity to stop her, it makes sense that she’d continue tumbling backwards.

I liked the shot of her getting smaller and smaller. It helped to put into perspective how dark and vast space is.

When Kowalski finally caught Stone, she didn’t want to let him go. That was a nice touch. Even a person who went through training would have to be freaked out at the thought of floating away into endless abyss until he or she dies.

From a character standpoint, it was smart to have Ryan be on her first mission. Kowalski was the experienced astronaut, on his last mission. The contrast in their attitudes made for a nice dynamic between the two.

I did think it was odd that Kowalski told Stone to stop panic and breathe normally so she wouldn’t waste oxygen, only to ask her where she was from as they were trying to make it to the International Space Station. Wouldn’t you want to conserve as much oxygen as you could? I guess he was trying to keep her calm though.

In addition, it was probably the only part in the script where it seemed fitting to introduce Stone's personal story about her daughter dying. That story made me care a little more about Ryan Stone. She was more of a person than just a lost astronaut.

Random fact (the one and only): I like to drive home just listening to music too.

It was interesting to see how much of a bumpy ride that trip to the ISS was. They were tethered together, but Stone was pretty much being jolted in that direction – as though she was in stop-and-go traffic. You don’t think about space being like that when you see Superman posing like Jesus in Man of Steel.

Real life pondering moment #2: I was interested to see just what the ISS looked like. I knew it wasn’t a station that looked like the Death Star, but I figured if people are actually living up there, it had to be a decent size right? I suppose I could’ve Googled that, but I never took the time to do so before.

It looked more like a satellite than a space station, so that left me a little surprised.

How about the amount of issues they had trying to board the station?

They were clamoring to hang onto anything, but kept getting tossed around. At one point I was wondering if their suits were going to rip from hitting so hard against all of that machinery.

I guess that’s the effect of zero gravity.

The Titantic-like letting go scene was done well. I was wondering if the wires were going to unravel from around Stone’s leg before she let go, but I guess that couldn’t have happened since Kowalski’s jet pack was out of gas.

Is it possible #1: Stone spent a lot of time breathing in that C02 as she watched Kowalski float away. Had she actually breathed in that much carbon monoxide, would she not have suffered more damage than she did?

Stone flung herself towards the gear-lock? with relative ease, despite being light-headed and facing the chance of missing the handles and then being stuck without any hope of surviving.

Real life pondering moment #3: is that how the doors open on the space station? It was like opening a jack-in-the-box. If the station was launched a while ago, I guess it stands to reason. In emergency situations, like this, I guess you’d want a door that’s easy to open. On the other hand, if you’re inside that space station, you’d probably want a door that wouldn’t budge if Thor was banging on it.

I’m glad Stone took a moment to close her eyes and rest after she got into the station. She would’ve seemed too much like Wonder Woman had she just ditched the suit and went right to the comm. center.

The visual effects of fighting that fire were pretty cool. Seeing the blood drops float out from behind her head looked like you’d think it would in space.

Stone thought pretty quick to ditch the station as it caught fire. I knew that parachute would be a problem though. Stone did a pretty good job steering her pod, preventing a collision with the remaining space station.

Real life pondering moment #4: if there was a fire – contained in the space station – would it eventually explode? That fire was spreading pretty quick. I thought it might explode, lodging large pieces of machinery at Stone’s escape pod. It didn’t though. Too bad firefighters can’t just seal off a fire like that here on Earth.

Stone knew that the debris from the satellite would be coming back around in 7 minutes, yet she went out to dislodge the pod from the parachute. Maybe she figured the satellite debris could damage the pod and she’d be stuck there?

I think I may have sat in the pod, hoping that the debris would do the work for me – cutting the cord as they flew by.

I was surprised that none of the debris hit Stone as she was out there. I guess if a piece had hit her it would’ve left her like Shariff since it was traveling so fast and those astronaut suits aren’t exactly made of armor.

Those special effects were great weren’t they? Stone, once inside the pod again, was flipping through the instruction manuals and I kind of got distracted by how real that looked. The manuals looked like they were really floating.

Hollywood could probably do a stellar job with a TV show remake like I Dream of Jeannie.

How much would it suck if you survived a large portion of drifting satellite debris twice and escaped a burning space station, only to find out your pod didn’t have any fuel left?

The tantrum Stone threw was both fitting and funny. I would’ve been throwing out a lot more cuss words than she did though. That scene was another display of just how alone she was.

She was screaming in the pod and hitting things, but during the shot from outside of the pod there was dead silence. Nice reminder there.

The scene that really seems Oscar-worthy was when Stone heard the Chinese man over the communication system. Here she thought she’d gotten in touch with someone, but she hears a dog barking, meaning that it was someone on Earth that she was communicating with.

That was a nice up and down on the roller coaster ride that was in the script.

She gets in contact with someone. Finally! It’s pointless though. Not only does he speak a different language, but he’s on Earth.

I’m not sure how long the oxygen levels in that pod would’ve lasted, but I assume she couldn’t have just waited for a rescue squad. They wouldn’t have even known she was in there, come to think of it, so the hope of a rescue seemed pretty pointless.

It was an interesting point Stone brought up about knowing that you are going to die. At first I kind of scoffed, thinking, ‘There are other situations where people know the same thing,’ but then I couldn’t think of any.

Soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, homeless people in the city on a cold night – they all know there’s a chance of dying, but none of them know, for sure, that they will die.

Being stranded in a space pod with limited oxygen, no fuel and a Chinese man and barking dog on the other end of your only line of communication --- that’s probably as close as one can get to knowing death is inevitable. I’d probably turn the oxygen down and breath in as much CO2 as I could, too.

Okay – the controversial, George Clooney-penned (or not?) scene is up next. I don’t see what was so controversial about it. Don’t get me wrong. I was shocked that Kowalski would be stupid enough to open the door before Stone had her helmet on.

At that point, the elderly man in the theatre seat in front of me said to his wife, “She would die if that happened.”

I was in agreement with him, but, I thought, “Maybe, in it’s smallest form, there’s a chance she’d survive?”

Thankfully the movie redeemed itself by quickly letting us in on the fact that it was a dream sequence. Stone was imagining Kowalski climbing into her pod and talking to her. She was inhaling CO2 after all. Either that or she died from the CO2 --- as some Gravity conspiracy theorists would have you believe. Whether she died from the carbon monoxide or it was a dream, Kowalksi climbing into her pod wasn’t real, so the movie regains any points it lost when that happened.

Now she figured out how to get the pod to the space station.

I praised the special effects earlier, but the one point that looked fake was Stone using the fire extinguisher to get aboard the Chinese station. That looked ‘Tomb Raider 2: Jolie punching the shark under water’ bad.

Is it possible #2: could that even be done? Would the fire extinguisher not explode in space or something?

Stone sure had luck getting onto the Chinese space station. She missed a lot of opportunities finding something to cling to and she couldn’t hang onto some handles or ledges, but it seemed like she was a little too confident in her ability to get on board.

There was a good chance she could have missed it entirely, but she opened the door of her original pod at just the right moment and launched herself towards the station.

Ah well, I’ll cut them some slack. It is a movie after all – not a documentary.

I had another moment of laughter when Stone started randomly hitting buttons in the Chinese station’s pod.

“That doesn’t sound good,” she said, as she hit the button a second time, turning it off. Ha! There are small bits of humor sprinkled in throughout the movie.

As the second pod was entering Earth’s atmosphere I had to wonder if she’d survive. I thought she was going to die from the CO2. Then I thought she was going to die when Kowalski opened the hatch to the pod. Now I was even more willing to bet that she was going to die.

The pod survived and crashed into some water. I can’t complain about that. Earth is about 70% water, so chances are you’ll hit water if you’re crash-landing from space.

After the pod lands – it catches fire. Stone opens the hatch and water starts filling up the cabin. This chick is going to drown yet! Does she have bad luck or what?

She escaped the pod and then starts to sink due to her astronaut outfit. Due to all of her previous obstacles, I thought she was going to run into a shark at that point. Gravity’s writers had me ready to expect anything at this point.

She made it to the surface though.

It was a little convenient that she landed so close to land, but that had to happen in order to end the movie the way they did.

It was an awesome ending --- the films last moments are the first moments that actually happened on land. The imprint of her foot in the sand, reminiscent of man’s footprints on the moon – that’s a superb ending right there folks.

Real life pondering moment #5:
from what I understand, there’s a good bit of rehabilitation that needs to happen when someone returns from a long stay in space. Their muscles don’t work as well as they did before after being in a zero-gravity environment for so long. Then again, they did say, at the beginning of the movie, that Stone had only been in space for a week. Stone did seem like she had difficulty moving at first, so I guess they did that well.

Alfonso Cuarón said the ending was like a rebirth. Some people asked him what happened to her after she got to land. He said, whatever situation she encountered, he figured she’d be strong enough to survive after what she’d been through. I’m in agreement with him. I like that it was an open-ended ending in a way. You know she gets to Earth, but you don’t know what happens after that.

I like to think that after she found a nice foreign-speaking person who took her in, gave her some soup, took her to the village, and helped her phone home, she signed a book deal, showed up on OWN as one of Oprah’s exclusive interviews, and is now researching space from her lake home in Michigan.

Overall, definitely a different movie. It kind of reminded me of Paranormal Activity in that it broke a lot of the rules that apply to many of today’s big box office movies. This movie took today’s book of rules and threw them out the window, finding success on it’s own terms.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gravity end up being one of the movies future film students see on their syllabus, alongside Citizen Kane, Psycho and The Godfather.

If not, at least it was still an entertaining flick.

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