The trailer for Gravity had me hooked. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are doing a spacewalk on the ISS when some sort of debris storm destroys everything. We see both of them floating away, spinning, totally adrift in space. Gravity: the words crash down on the screen, plain white text on a black background.
My palms were sweaty after only twenty seconds. I mean, I don’t have much astronaut experience, no zero-g training or anything like that, but here’s something I’ve given considerable thought to. This whole concept taps into something universal, whether lost at sea or buried alive, what would it feel like knowing that certain death is all but imminent, but you still have to be awake and struggling for a while until whatever it is that’s keeping you alive stops working?
And that feeling, not being able to unclench my fists, squirming in my seat, the movie doesn’t waste any time taking you from a routine Hubble telescope repair job to, “Astronauts: This is Houston. Get out of there now!”
Unfortunately, the movie never unclenches to allow even a little bit of blood back in once in a while. After only a quarter of the way through, I was in physical discomfort, my body and soul overwhelmed by pins and needles. I guess there wouldn’t be a lot of time for pause or reflection if you really were running out of oxygen and spinning untethered away from your only means of escape, but man, it was really hard to sit still through all of that.
And it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. In each moment, there’s really only one action to be taken care of at a time. Because everything’s taking place in the unforgiving void of outer space, each action is a zero-sum game, live or die. So it’s like ten excruciating minutes of getting a hold of a rope. Do it or die. Then it’s ten painful minutes of tying a knot. You better tie that knot, or you’ll die.
There’s a very clear goal, somehow not dying and finding your way back to Earth, but there’s no direct path to success. And so there’s really no pace, it’s just calm for about two seconds, and then everything gets ratcheted up to eleven, and that’s where it stays, the needle constantly threatening to bust through the red.
It was a little too much. Like, I’m sure the story would have been enough to evoke those grand ideas of life, the fear of death, what it means to be without hope, or eventually to be able to let go. But everything is spelled out. Let’s zoom in on this miniature statue of the Buddha to convey an image of serenity amongst chaos. Or the little dialogue that peppers the film will be random statements about life being a wild ride. George Clooney throughout the entire movie is half The Fonz (“Now that we’ve got some distance between us, you think I’m attractive, right?”) and half wise philosopher (“You need to let go!”)
Parts of it were cool. The concept is definitely scary, especially considering how this is all within the realm of like actual science. You know, I’m saying that from a non-scientist’s point of view. Maybe a real scientist would watch Gravity and be able to spot several gaping plot holes. But I was looking for them, and I couldn’t see anything. Russian lettering on the escape pod, check. Tears are cried outward and away from the face in the absence of gravity, check. Yep, everything made sense.
Except, and this was a pretty glaring error, at least I thought it was, but there are several scenes in which the astronauts either have to screw something in, or screw something out. Each time, I noticed that the screws and levers and knobs, everybody turned them left to tighten and right to loosen them up. Doesn’t this go against the whole “lefty loosey, righty tighty” rule? Or does this for some reason not apply in outer space? Was everything designed backward to prevent regular people from someday hijacking the equipment?
I don’t know. But other than that, it was a cool movie. A little two-dimensional, but cool. And short. I’m a lot more forgiving with movies that don’t knock my socks off if they’re under an hour and a half long. Whatever, I can allow myself to not be one hundred percent entertained for under an hour and a half. But that’s it. Any longer than that and I’m pissed, like, “Oh my God, this was so boring, and so long.” But not Gravity. It was short and sweet. Or short and just a tad sweet. Let’s go with short and OK.