Gravity movie review – It’s no 2001: A Space Odyssey

Gravity debris

Gravity collision in outer space

Gravity fails to inspire

If you’re planning on seeing Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, you might want to read this review first. As most of you cinema fans know, the American movie industry is based largely on hype. In order to generate that hype, you have sites like Rotten Tomatoes, which amalgamates a bunch of national movie critic reviews to provide a percentage of what critics overall think of the movie.  It also includes fan reviews. But the emphasis is first placed on what the national movie critics think. Critics definitely influence the fate of movies and how well or poorly they will do at the box office. Movies that tank are often the butt of jokes and movie critics themselves get their share of the blame by producers who feel their film was never given a chance.

But back to Gravity. The visuals are, for the most part, spectacular on the big screen. I felt like I was floating in outer space and nauseous at the same time. Director Alfonso Cuaron certainly does his best to use technology as a means of capturing the story of our two beloved astronauts at the center of the picture, George Clooney (Lt. Kowalski) and Sandra Bullock (mission specialist Stone). George plays a cowboy’esque astronaut; he’s quick to raddle off tails of his escapades back on Earth to alleviate the boredom of his spacewalk. I can’t recall the last time an astronaut was ever bored in outer space. He comes across as a smart-ass. If I were an astronaut, I’d be insulted by Clooney’s performance.

Now I’m not sure what astronauts are like in outer space and I’d be very curious to hear recorded conversations between NASA headquarters and the astronauts in space to get an idea of just how chummy the communications are. But by any stretch of the imagination, Lt. Kowalski’s personality is a real turn-off. He’s the “know it all” so when the proverbial sh-t hits the fan, he’s the one that will lead the rescue of himself and Bullock. Well that’s not exactly how it goes and I won’t go into greater detail about how Bullock saves herself but the repartee between both characters had a false ring to it.

When astronauts travel to outer space together don’t they know a little bit about the background of each other? I’ve got to believe they do and yet we have Clooney peppering Bullock with questions about her family life back in Illinois when her oxygen levels are dropping precipitously. Why would Lt. Kowalski knowingly endanger Stone’s life by asking her more questions when she should be slowing down her breathing and not be talking at all?

Stone, as played by Bullock, is more realistic. She’s doing her best to not vomit while performing her duties nearly 400 miles above the Earth’s atmosphere. There’s nothing to dislike about Stone but then you keep asking yourself is there anything special about her? Not sure there is.  Bullock displays adequate relief and drama as things progressively worsen for her. But by the film’s conclusion, I was sort of like, thanks Hollywood, I know how this one is going to end.

In space no one can you hear vomit

At 372 miles above the Earth

There is nothing to carry sound

No air pressure

No oxygen

My expectations for Gravity had me thinking that I was going to be overwhelmed by the gigantic universe. And in a way I was but at the same time director Alfonso Cuaron performs the cardinal sin.  In outer space, there is no sound. No oxygen. There is silence. But throughout the entire movie, Cuaron actually plays sound. As if it was necessary? If any one of you reading this now ever watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, you will remember that the scenes taking place in outer space were DEVOID of any sound! It was creepy!

But in Gravity, we’ve got sound; we also have synthesizer music that tries to heighten the level of tension. It’s absolutely ruinous to the film’s drama. I’m not sure what prompted Cuaron to provide a soundtrack but this film would have been so much more memorable if there had been NONE. Imagine, you’re watching mission specialist Stone fighting to survive in outer space and all you can do is watch and you can’t hear a pin drop!

Much of Gravity is based upon a series of calamities. Things just get worse and worse for our astronauts once they have been notified by Mission control that a shower of debris is heading their way. We see in slow motion just how powerful the collisions are and I can’t imagine why visuals alone wouldn’t be sufficient to keep your attention. But Cuaron insists upon a soundtrack and suddenly we are taken away from outer space and brought back down to some studio somewhere on planet earth where a composer is fiddling around on some MacBook Pro figuring out what sounds can be made to fit the disaster on screen.

The casting of movie stars did little to enhance Gravity

Movie critics like Mick Lasalle of the San Francisco Chronicle couldn’t rave enough about the casting in Gravity. I’m not sure why they fell in love with the acting in this film. As previously mentioned, Clooney’s macho bit was obnoxious. Bullock did surprise me. I’ve never liked her voice or her acting. But she does an adequate job here. Not that the dialogue she’s given was believable in the slightest. Talk about family and children just seems trite even in outer space. Screenwriter Jonas Cuaron had to come up with something for our astronauts to say but I think he misses the boat. Bullock, when alone in her capsule, adequately expresses her fear of dying. In a funny moment, Clooney appears out of nowhere and we expect him to “save the day.” Alas, it’s only a dream. The thing is, did I really care if Bullock was going to make it or not? When you watch the ending of the film, you might actually have a good laugh instead of the catharsis you were hoping for.

I don’t think the casting of Clooney or Bullock was in anyway inspired.

Time to revisit 2001: A Space Odyssey

Back in 1968, no one was prepared for the “Space Odyssey” that Stanly Kubrick brought to the screen. In particular, the battle between HAL and astronaut Dave Bowman was scary and watching HAL kill off one of the astronauts was positively frightening. And guess what?  There is NO SOUND IN OUTER SPACE. Watch this clip to remind yourself of just how powerful a scene this was not only then but to this day. I can tell you that Gravity doesn’t even come close to matching the drama of this one scene alone.

Let’s do away with the Hollywood soundtrack and SOUND IN SPACE

When I read all of the ridiculous reviews praising this film’s grandeur and inspired casting, I’m reminded why it’s so beneficial to be a student of history. You can research and identify what films have come before that tackled similar subject matter. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a more honest attempt at capturing drama in outer space. Director Alfonso Cuaron missed the opportunity to create a dramatic film without the Hollywood varnish. He blew it. We not only get an artificial soundtrack but we know that Sandra Bullock will survive.

If you’re like me, you don’t go see movies to make you feel good. You go see films to be riveted, captivated, and drawn into something that makes you forget it’s only a movie. It’s a movie that doesn’t come rapped with a bow tie. I can’t say Hollywood makes too many of those. Films that make you forget they are films are an endangered species.

For those who go to the movies to simply turn off your brains than by all means go see Gravity and be enthralled by the large scale visuals of floating in outer space above planet Earth. But for those who see films to be both entertained AND engaged than you require just a bit more truth, profundity, and less Hollywood contrivance.  In particular, let’s do away with the Hollywood soundtrack. Let’s do away with the artificiality of soundtracks, meaning synthesizer-oriented sounds that are clearly added to height the drama, which a film, if it’s a great story to begin with, doesn’t need.  The human drama provides plenty of soundtrack until itself without the need for an artificial one.

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