"Gravity," Alfonso Cuaron, Film Review
A series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
A tough one to score. I've erred on the side of generosity. It has two standout plus points – 1) the use of existing technology and 2) the bizarre scene of a random cross-language communication between space and Earth. Overall it's more thoughtful than it strictly needs to be.
The film sets its technology within current day boundaries and this is a strength and refreshing after countless space films with AI computers, ray guns, space ships like souped-up cars, Earth destroyed by nuclear bombs etc etc. Okay, the Chinese space station doesn't exist yet, but the technology is all based on the current International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope, which do exist. The scenes showing the tiny space pod hurtling back to Earth does a great job of demonstrating the physical reality of that process.
Another effective and unusual scene is when the Bullock character has all but given up hope, then receives a random radio signal from Greenland in a language she doesn't understand. Instead of making her give up completely (as it could have done, a final nail in the coffin) it makes her relate on a primal human level, working purely on names, sounds of dogs and babies. She starts howling herself in response.
The development of character in empty space is all the more necessary. Clooney's with his rambling and repetitious stories, but he suddenly snaps to "That's an order," commanding Bulluck's character to stop work when the mission is aborted.
Plot is driven by the idea of chain reactions of space debris collisions causing millions more particles to be created in an explosive escalation of trouble.
The remaining plot drivers or one problem after another is standard Star Trek stuff. And the chain reaction taking out all the satellites is a suitably spacey equivalent to the teens lost in woods finding their mobile signal has gone.
Bullock's character's loss of her one child in an arbitrary playground accident leads her to reflect on the purpose of life from the rare perspective of seeing Earth in all its glory in space – and her final decision that, yes, it is worth carrying on with seems convincingly hard-won.
Visuals are great, of course, with moon in background, huge Earth and iconic shots of Clooney and Bullock's faces in their space helmets. Both characters talk about blue eyes, both turn out to have brown eyes, and the subsequent close-ups of, say, Bullock's brown eyes, along with her slender and vulnerable body when out of the clunky spacesuit give a good visual and physical sense of frail humanity in space.
Personal Score: 7/10