Genre-defying 'Gravity' is a Cinematic Spectacle Not to be Missed

Ensign Lestat's Film Log, 03/11/2013

'Space, the final frontier...' I grew up listening to this verse, and it shaped my existence. No, I didn't grow up to be an astronaut. In fact, my life is so far removed from outer space that one would hardly think of me as anything close to the term 'geek'. But the voyages to other worlds and the discoveries made in space have always fascinated me. So, yes, I try and stay in touch with the world of space discoveries and try my best not to scoff at the UN's latest mandate to create a division that protects us Terrans from the possibility of an asteroid shower. There must be a good reason for this, I tell myself.

Sometimes the billions invested in scientific technologies worries me - there are millions who live without food and shelter, why should we spend so much on creating something that may or may not prove some obscure theory of some unknown scientist? But, science is important. The more we know about the world and universe around us, the more we can do to help and correct the living world, and the more we can help benefit our future.

Remember, in space no one can hear you scream!
But, I didn't get on here to spew unfounded scientific philosophies. I'm here to do what I do best - write a review. And today's topic of discussion is 'Gravity'. The film has topped the charts and has raked in staggering amounts of the green stuff.

I can assure you that this information came as much of a surprise to me. When first I saw the teaser trailer I wasn't very interested. I do not know why, space usually intrigues me. But perhaps I was sure that this wasn't going to be science, but would just be a drama.

My interest was only slightly piqued by my family's interest. Suddenly my dad and my sister were very keen. So, I tagged along. Might as well.

We pretty much caught the last 3D IMAX show before it changed. I made sure I got out of work early. It was still a stressful trip to the other end of town to get to the IMAX.

This film isn't about its story, though it still has enough of an emotional plotline to be defined by it. Our protagonist is Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). She's working on a new communications array, along with Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and the team aboard the Explorer. While they're working, an unrelated missile hit (the Russians are at fault, of course) causes catastrophic damage to their ship.

What follows is a survivalist story as we follow Stone's determination to get back to Earth and, well, tell 'a hell of a story'.
The mission expert and the satellite commander.
The majority of the film takes place in space - and this is what enthralls and thrills the audience. The novelty of this film is that it is life in space as of the present world. We are neither watching the events of 'a long time ago', neither are we living in the future. We are watching people who can or do exist today, working with technology that currently orbits the Earth, and telling a tale that could happen.

We feel the loss that these characters feel, we feel the desperation, the hopelessness and the triumph. It's all rolled into one stellar package.

Here are some points, opinions and comments I have about the film (in no particular order). Be warned, there will be spoilers.

1. Hotpants - Might as well state that I'm not sure it was necessary for Bullock to be in hotpants when she was out of her spacesuit. Would Clooney have spent the entirety of the film in boxers? Unlikely (and I wouldn't probably want to see that either), so what's up with Dr. Stone donning hotpants. It seems out of character. Bicycle shorts, yoga pants, tights - makes sense, hotpants, not so much.
Out of the suit and into the fire. Literally.
2. Existing - Stone isn't really living, she's existing. This is explained to us in the film. But, how does a person who spends all her time just 'doing her job' end up being a mission expert in space? Granted, the exact scope of her work in the hospital is never explained, maybe this was an eventual progression. Or maybe I don't know enough of human psychology to be commenting on this, but it was just my feeling that perhaps she wasn't just 'going through the motions' as much as she felt she was. Well, that's an added dimension right there! A positive then.

3. Survival instinct - Stone trained for only 6 months and she's the only survivor of these unfortunate events. Now, that may be the whole point of the film, but, as my colleague and I discussed, it at some points felt incredibly improbable that a complete rookie would be able to get through it all. In one piece, relatively unscathed. I love that aspect of this film, but so much happens to her out in space, that it seems extraordinary that she lands on Earth at all. I'm playing devil's advocate here. This is a point of contention for me, but may not necessarily be the same for others. Nor it should.

4. Cinematography - I doubt I will come across any film in the coming months that will blow me away in terms of camerawork and cinematography the way this film did. This film is incredible in those regards. The sheer vastness and beauty of space is captured brilliantly. We are at once enthralled and frightened by what surrounds the characters. It is magnificent. Without a doubt my favourite shot (and this probably goes for a lot of people) is that of Dr. Stone floating in space, alone with nothing but the lights of bygone stars around her. It is scary and beautiful at the same time.
No hell below us, only sky above.
5. Editing - Another highlight of the film were the number of POV shots that threw the audience right into the midst of the situation. Yes, this is an experience enhanced by IMAX 3D, but it is great cinematic work as well. It's not just about debris flying at the audience, but it's also all the spinning, the crashing and observing the environment around. What was especially genius was how casually the wide-angle shots would segue into the POVs. More often than not it took a moment to realise that it was POV, and that was a definite thumbs up.

6. Humour - There's a fair amount of humour in the film, it's mostly in the beginning, and the primary source is George Clooney. Despite not being out of his suit (bar once), he's always charismatic. He's not annoyingly in-your-face about his flirtation with Stone. He displays a genuine heart as he listens to her sad story, and yeah, he's encouraging even in the face of eventual death. I really enjoyed Clooney's delivery of his lines, even though we rarely see him speak them.
George Clooney in 'Gravity'.
7. Our protagonist - Last but not the least, I was thrilled to see Bullock as the lead. I did not know she was the lead till I came across an interview headline where she mentioned that the creators of the film were brave to cast a female in the lead. To be honest, the role fits the conventional idea of a female role. She's new, inexperienced. She's faced a great loss, needs direction. She has to survive by her wits. She needs rescuing. The nice thing is she achieves a lot of that on her own steam. She is new and inexperienced in space, but at the beginning she's the boss of the mission. It's only when things go sideways that Kowalski has to take charge. Quite like the captain of the sinking ship has to direct the president - if that's an apt analogy. She brings in heart because she's lost her child - a male protagonist would've lost his wife. In this film Clooney plays the MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl). This comment was made by my sister, and in hindsight it makes sense. Kowalski appears to have no credible back-story of his own (unlike Stone, who we have an in-depth knowledge of by the end of the film). His sole goal in the film appears to be to facilitate her journey from being a living zombie, to someone who truly wants to live and is alive. He humours her, pays her attention, he gives her a different viewpoint on life and living, he gives her life as well (cutting the tether so that she can get back to the SOAS). Close to the end, she sees him in her fever dream giving her directions to how to get to the Chinese satellite. I particularly loved that subversion of a common Hollywood trope - the damsel in distress. She needs saving, but she saves herself, albeit via a dream conversation with Kowalski. I enjoyed the fact that Stone gets by on her own steam. She uses whatever knowledge she has and gets the job done. Most importantly, in the end, she really does want to live, and she wants to tell her and the rest of team Explorer's tales.
Dr. Ryan Stone - Surfing in space.
The film leaves you with a feeling of triumph. Yes, this is a feel-good film like no other. I've never quite been so drawn into a world as I was with this one. While I do not wish there to be a sequel, I do hope that more original and magnificent material such as this is given its day in Hollywood. We're not interested in remakes and sequels to our childhood sagas. Stuff like this, subversive, genuine, thought-provoking and at the same time entertaining, is what the audience requires. I'm glad that Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón were given the opportunity to make this fabulous film.

It's time Hollywood stopped catering to the lowest common denominator and gave the audience some credit. Surely the success of 'Gravity' will show them that intelligent and entertaining cinema is not for a bygone era. We still want real stories, but for those of us who like our stories with a lot of action, we need to be treated as adults and be given those. What say you, Hollywood?

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