Shouldering the Weight of Gravity

Spoiler index:  Mild

Those of you who haven’t seen Gravity yet (both of you) are no doubt wondering if the movie lives up to its hype.  I’ll end the suspense:  it does not.

But to be be fair, the hype has reached ridiculous levels.  To hear some critics tell it, the film is a revelation, a breakthrough, a cultural earthquake on a par with the Second Coming.  Kind of a high bar to clear.

That’s not to say Gravity isn’t good, or that you shouldn’t see it.  It is, and you should.

To be sure, on a technological level, it redefines what movies can do.  No film since 2001:  A Space Odyssey has so convincingly portrayed life in space.  Weightlessness?  Check.  Lack of sound?  Check.  Homicidal computers?  Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Seriously, the 13-minute tracking shot that opens the film dazzles.  Sometimes a long tracking shot is little more than a director showing off, but in this case, it works—setting up the situation, introducing the characters, and most importantly, acclimating us to an environment in which up and down are meaningless concepts.

Then disaster strikes, as satellite shrapnel streaks past, cutting off communication with Earth, killing astronauts, and destroying a space shuttle.  Lack of sound in space is more than compensated for by an intense, menacing score.  If this sequence—especially if viewed in 3-D Imax—doesn’t make you cringe and suck in breath, don’t worry.  Things only get worse from there.

The special effects are so good that they will become the benchmark against which all future space movies will be measured.  I have to wonder how well the forthcoming Ender’s Game will fare on that score, given all the weightless scenes it must have, if faithful to the book.

For all of the special effects and tension, though, there is also a surprising degree of uplift by Gravity’s end, celebrating the will to survive despite incredible odds.  Sandra Bullock and George Clooney share top billing, but this is Bullock’s movie all the way.  She has to sell terror, despair, and finally hope, and she proves equal to the task.

A lot to like, then.  And yet, when we got to the end, my wife turned to me and said, “That’s it?”

I puzzled over that reaction, because I shared it, at least in part.  And I’m not entirely sure why.  I think it has to be the hype.  Given all you’ve heard, you’re bound to be disappointed to learn that Gravity merely entertains.  It doesn’t provide fascinating new insights, reveal new depths of characterization, or cure cancer.

And those expectations are more than a little unfair, especially given the state of cinema today.  I’ve been awfully bored with “event” movies of late.  Pacific Rim was merely the latest in a string of disappointments, all of them heavy on flash but lacking in any kind of emotional investment.  Gravity made me care about what was happening on the screen, and one can’t ask for much more than that.

So ignore the hype, if you can.  But go see the movie.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.