Monday, 3 March 2014

Gravity

Lowdown: An astronaut trapped in the depth of space fights to return back to earth.
Review:
There's a special corner in my home theatre for director Alfonso Cuarón. Not because of I think his Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the best movie of that series, but rather because his Children of Men is the movie I generally consider the best I movie I got to watch for the first time during the life of this blog. He sure took his time before making his next movie with Gravity, though! I guess there is a limit to how much one can sustain oneself out of Centrelink allowance.
Jokes aside, with all of its success you could say I was eager to watch Gravity; on the other hand, several sources I hold in high regard condemned the movie due to its lacklustre physics. The question, therefore, is which way Gravity gravitates to: is it the wow film some people say it is, or is it the scientific atrocity others claim it to be?
What Gravity most definitely is is some sort of a science fictional take on authentic, contemporary, space escapades. The story revolves around three characters only, all of which are astronauts brought to orbit with a space shuttle (aren't these out of service?) in order to fix the Hubble telescope. Amongst these three we have mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and a specialist that's generally out of her waters in space, Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). As it happens, the Russians decide to knock off a satellite of theirs, triggering an explosion that kills most of the space shuttle crew and leaves Matt and Ryan at wits to come up with a way to return back to planet earth, home, alive.
Several elements are immediately obvious with Gravity. If Children of Men captured me with its sophisticated, complicated and lengthy shots, then Gravity takes things up a notch. Every shot is a work of art, and even the gravity-less environment of space will not stop Cuarón from curating his complicated visuals. To those visuals we need to add sound, which - against the well established trends since the original Star Wars - actually do pay homage to the silence of space. This does not mean, however, that Gravity is a silent movie; there is plenty of room for sound effect still, and well coordinated music fills up any residual gaps.
The next element worth mentioning is the acting. Gravity is a relatively short film, at about an hour and a half; the bulk of this hour and a half is filled by Bullock's presence and mostly Bullock alone, a rare treat for a female character. Not only does Bullock step up to the challenge, she absolutely flourishes; if you ask me, her performance is vastly more captivating than Cate Blanchett's in Blue Jasmine. Not that I think too highly of the Academy Awards in the first place (and not that I do not think highly of Blanchett's performance).
The next, and probably last thing I would like to discuss, is the symbolic nature of Gravity. Sure, this is a movie set in space. However, between Ryan's fish out of water behaviour and her gradually revealed back story, one can clearly identify Gravity as the story of a person coming to terms with harsh reality to stand up and face it head on. Space, in this case, is just a sophisticated metaphor. And what a sophisticated metaphor it is!
When examined from the metaphor's point of view, the whole inaccurate physics affair does not matter much. Or rather, it matters just as much as the scientific accuracy of a children's bedtime story matters: sure, it can teach us a thing or two, but fidelity is not the key point.
With that in mind, can I claim to be entirely awe struck by the visuals, the story and the acting, to the point of forgetting the physics? No. I was distracted and I kept getting distracted. For a start, this whole "explosion in space that knocks another orbital craft off" thing is more than a bit sus; add to that the "explosion circles the earth to hit us back every 90 minutes" and you move from the very unlikely to the total bullshit department. Put on enough incidents that made me think along the lines of "oh, I don't think things would really work this way in space, but then again what do I know" and I found myself dedicating too many thoughts to the realism or lack of it to be distracted.
I can conclude by observing two problems with the realism department. The first is that one can only figure out the symbolic nature of Gravity at the movie's very end, long after the distractions took place. And second, these distractions do stand up for themselves given the movie's significant efforts for realism in other departments (such as the previously mentioned sound design).
But perhaps I'm making too much of a fuss here. When all is said and done, Gravity is a masterpiece. It's one of those rare but important science fiction movies that penetrate far beyond the borders of the genre. In other words, this is the type of movie I like the most.
Best Scene: The scene where Ryan tells Matt how she lost her child is not only a key scene to the understanding of Gravity's symbolic nature, it is also a wonderful piece of direction and acting. This must have been a tough shoot!
Overall: Alfonso Cuarón, you did it again - scientific distractions or not. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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