Review – Lots of Gravitas… (“Gravity”)

For a movie that has “gravity” for its title, there sure is a surprising lack of it in the movie! In an unusual move for director Alfonso Cuaron, who’s best known for “Harry Potter/Prisoner of Azkaban” and “Children of Men“, this science-fact/fiction movie is pure eye-candy for any NASA fan. He also co-wrote this film with his son, Jonas.

(WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!!)
Set in space aboard the shuttle Explorer, three astronauts are conducting routine experiments and fixing the Hubble telescope like any ordinary shuttle mission. They are astronaut Shariff (Paul Sharma), veteran commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), and specialist on board, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). She’s not exactly at home in space, having only six months training to perform her task in zero gravity… neither is her lunch. But things are about to go bad – very, very bad.

A freak accident in space causes debris from a destroyed Russian satellite to smash into the shuttle with disastrous results. Stone is catapulted into space while Kowalski, wearing an experimental jet-pack, is thrown clear and tries to find her in the blackest of skies. Once they finally meet up, they fly back to what’s left of the shuttle and assess the damage.

Well, looks like everyone else is dead and the shuttle ain’t going anywhere fast. Not able to call AAA hundreds of miles above the Earth, the two decide to “hike it” to the ISS (International Space Station) to take advantage of their escape pods. On the way there the jet-pack fuel runs out, Stone’s oxygen runs out, and that pesky satellite debris field is making its return trip right on time. Kowalski, making the ultimate sacrifice, gives up his life for hers so she can get into the ISS and safety.

But, doggone it, she ain’t safe for long! The ISS has already sustained damage and all the escape pods are gone with only a space module left aboard. Her only hope is to use the module and fly over to the nearby Chinese space station on the horizon and, if it’s not damaged, use their escape pod. She hops aboard as all hell breaks loose as the debris field nails the ISS just as she starts to fly away. The module gets damaged and she limps over towards the space station when… she runs out of fuel! “Are you kidding me??!!” she screams, as we think the same thing.

So, let’s recap: lost in space… again, oxygen running low, space station in sight but no fuel, no communication with Houston, a deadly debris field will be coming back shortly, and she’s run out of options. This was NOT on her to-do list this morning.

At this point I’ll stop before I give away the ending, which I will say does have a nice little ribbon set on top of it.

This is really Bullock’s movie through and through, and I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for her performance next year. She radiates such emotion on screen that you feel her pain and suffering throughout the movie. Clooney, for the little time he’s on screen, is your typical Clooney with his wise-cracks and solid vocal performances.

The story, what little there is of it, moves at a quick pace, which it needs to be, given that once you get past the “wow” factor of the jaw-dropping, eye-candy visuals, you have a very simple plot of a woman stuck in outer space desperately trying to back home without giving up hope.

But apart from Bullock’s remarkable acting is Cuaron’s spectacular directing along with cinematography by the amazing Emmanuel Lubezki. Cuaron understood that the first rule about “shooting in space” is that there is NO sound in space! Every other movie has always had sound effects when showing explosions in space. Not here! Since there’s no sound, you hear no explosions or noise. All that is left up to scoring by Steven Price, who gives you music instead of sound, heightening the mood and intensifying the scenes.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The movie that essentially put Stanley Kubrick on the sci-fi map, this British-American film was produced, directed, and co-written by Kubrick along with novelist Arthur C. Clarke and tells the epic, albeit strange and sometimes mind-bending stories of a series of encounters between humans and some mysterious big black monoliths that are apparently affecting human evolution. We see them everywhere from the Earth to the Moon and on Jupiter.

The movie starts with now famous ape/man creatures on primal Earth who, after waking up to find the black monolith in their midst (that must have been one hell of a morning shocker!), “evolve” thanks to the entities presence, and discover they can use animal bones as weapons to defeat their enemies. Overjoyed, Bob (I call him “Bob”) throws the bone/weapon in the air and it becomes (cut to: millions of years later) a space craft carrying Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester) to an orbiting space station. His top secret mission is on the Moon and the newly unearthed (wouldn’t that be “unmooneth”?) giant black monolith they found there.

What is it? Why is it there? Who buried it? Ah, but there’s no time to ask. It emits a high-pitched radio signal and…  Boom! We’re now 18 months later aboard the  Discovery One spaceship & headed for Jupiter where the signal was sent. Inside are astronauts/scientists Dr. David Bowman (Kier Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood). The rest of the crew are all in cryogenic sleep. Oh, and did I mention the ship’s talking computer? HAL-9000? (voiced by Douglas Rain)

Anyway, the computer soon goes all cattywampas (I think it evolved as well, making it self-aware thanks to the monolith) and starts to lie to guys about the ship having serious malfunctions. Not a good thing!

HAL sabotages the spacecraft, killing off the sleeping crew, and tries to murder Poole and Bowman! Yikes! But Bowman quickly disconnects the rampaging HAL’s brain and all is well. Sorta. There’s that pesky big black monolith that’s hovering around Jupiter that Bowman and it sharing some sort of weird connection. He leaves the spacecraft to investigate and that’s where the movie goes into la-la land with Kubrick’s bizarre light-show, dazzling (for the time) computer graphics, and an ending that still leaves film students and scholars scratching their heads. What’s up with the old man in bed and then the space-fetus? WTH???

Sure, you have to wrap your head around the last 10 minutes or so, but this movie is a cinematic icon that broke all the rules back in 1968 and still holds up today. The imagery is sublime, the acting is wonderfully underplayed, and the SPFX (for its day) are terrific.

All this mixed with beautiful classical music by Johann and Richard Strauss (“The Blue Danube” and “Also Sprach Zarathustra”) made this film an instant classic. Even HAL’s voice and famous calming words, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that, Dave” are now catch-phrases as is HAL’s red glowing “eye”.

Never trust a computer.

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