Friday, October 18, 2013
Gravity was an awesome and truly unique film-going experience. I really enjoyed it, I thought it was really well done, and I highly recommend it.
Now, if I was most people, I'd just end this review there, because that's really all you need to know: It's a good film that's well worth seeing, especially in the theater on the biggest screen possible. But I'm not most people. I'm an asshole. Well, maybe not an asshole -- although certainly enough people have called me one to lend legitimacy to the claim -- but I've certainly reached a point where I'm just unable to turn off the critical faculty in my brain that nitpicks the shit out of movies that should've known better. I guess that's why I have a blog. Anyway, while the first half of Gravity is brilliant, creative, visually astounding, and worthy of the critical acclaim and position at the top of the box office for the past couple weeks, the second half... isn't.
Here's the story: A NASA Shuttle mission gets destroyed by debris from a recently destroyed satellite, leaving two surviving astronauts adrift in space as they try to make their way to the nearest space station. That's it. That's the entire plot. But don't worry, because it's never boring and almost always magical in its visuals and riveting in its action set pieces. I'll admit that I was curious (or perhaps even worried) going in how they'd be able to sustain this thin a plot without it starting to drag or without resorting to cheating. Turns out, they resorted to cheating... at least in terms of consistency in storytelling and overall realism and believability.
I don't want to get into spoiler territory or discuss the plot points with an in depth analysis because part of the fun of this movie was in watching the suspense build. I actually don't even remember if I saw a trailer for this film before I saw it. I went just on word of mouth and the reviews I had read. But I will say that the debris field that destroyed the shuttle in the opening of the film goes into orbit around the Earth, and comes back a few more times, completely coinciding with every major plot point in the film, almost as though the debris itself had read the script and picked the most dramatic time for its next attack. After the third or fourth time this happens, it kind of stopped being exciting and just got kind of ridiculous.
As I said, the first half is brilliant and perfectly done, but the second half turns into the second half of a generic slasher film, where every time you think the hero is safe, the monster comes back! There is just disaster after disaster after disaster, until it just kind of ends with a finale that was incredibly entertaining and beautifully filmed, but completely and absolutely impossible. Wouldn't happen. Couldn't happen.
But other than those complaints, it's a brilliant film that's completely unlike anything you'll ever seen. Probably 90% of the film takes place in space, and it is the best space photography ever put on film. I don't know if it was all CG or if some of it was real, I just know it was gorgeous and filmed with such a scope that made me feel like I was floating in space along with the characters. If you're prone to motion sickness, this might be a tough film to sit through, especially during the scenes where the characters are spiraling out of control and we see from their perspective.
I also saw it in 3D, which I recommend as well since it added another level of depth and helped to show where every object was in relation to every other in the free fall of space. Also, the big set piece where the space station gets ripped apart and the pieces fly right into the screen was high on my list of the coolest fucking things I've ever fucking seen.
Director Alfonso Cuaron is pretty much guaranteed to get an Oscar nomination, and he'll probably even win, which would be well deserved because this was an astounding piece of work. The camera is always moving with some of the most intricate choreography I've ever seen with visuals that are, literally, limitless in showing the vastness of space. The film is also told in a series of incredibly long takes, which keeps the momentum going and the suspense building. Of course, most of these takes aren't really long tracking shots, since they were all clearly filmed on a green screen and built together from multiple shots stitched together with computers, but they were still dazzling in their complexity and choreography. There is one sequence where the main character is floating around a space station for an extended take and we see her from head to toe and I have no idea how that was filmed. It was flawless.
But I think Cuaron's previous film Children of Men had the more impressive and complex long takes in film history. This guy is just a genius.
And then the acting was pretty good too. I had my reservations about Sandra Bullock, since while I've enjoyed her in movies like Miss Congeniality, I've never really cared much for her as an overall performer. This movie didn't really change my mind on her talents, but she did a good job. I don't think she lit the screen on fire, but she did her best with her particular talents, and maybe even added a lot to a character that was frankly underwritten and unlikable.
Why was this person in space anyway? There is some added subplot about how she's still overcome with grief after the death of her daughter years previous, and she has to deal with that loss before she can really deal with her current fight for survival and blah blah blah blah. That was completely unneeded in my opinion and added a level of melodrama that the actual drama didn't require. Also... if this woman was really suffering from this level of emotional baggage -- to the extent that the mission commander doesn't even know where she lives, has a family, etc -- how did she get into the space program? Any human is more likely to get into the NBA than they are to get into NASA. Becoming an astronaut is maybe the most rigorously selective employment process in the history of mankind, and I'm sorry to say it but this character wouldn't have made the cut.
Oh yeah, and George Clooney was also in there too. George Clooney is a wonderful actor, but there are some movies where he actually plays a character and others where he just plays George Clooney. In this movie he just plays George Clooney, albeit in a space suit.
But... I liked the movie. In fact, I kind of loved it and I plan to see it again, next time on IMAX. Sure the second half of the film gets a bit wacky and taxes your suspension of disbelief, but it never gets boring and it's always stunning to watch and gives you something you've never seen before in every scene. As space disaster porn it's probably the second best film of its kind, ranking just behind Apollo 13. This film might be a little more exciting and visually inventive, but Apollo 13 has the added virtue of being a true story, and one that doesn't cheat or drag in the slightest.
Anyway... Just go reread my first paragraph again then go see this movie. It's awesome.