Monday, March 10, 2014

Gravity Is More Than SFX

Two years ago if you did a Google search on the word "gravity" I am guessing you would have found some variety in the list of URLs offered up, most of them dealing with gravity, as in the kind of gravity that pertains to apples falling from trees or that keeps us from floating away when we walk to the store. This morning, the entire first page of Google reveals links to web pages about the film Gravity.

When the trailer for this film was being shown in theaters last year my first response was, "Ho hum, another special effects movie." Apparently a lot of folks in Hollywood weren't of that same mindset. The film garnered a full slate of Oscar nominations, a brought home its share.

You probably already know the storyline, so I will be brief here so I can add my own perspective. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first mission to the space shuttle out there orbiting our planet. One of the other space stations somewhere out there get shattered and is transformed into missiles of space debris. The shuttle is seriously damaged and the two survivors, herself and the soon to retire veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) must find a way home.

One can't watch a film like this without making comparisons to others. I couldn't help but think of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both films conveyed the otherness of outer space and the marvel of hovering over the earth. Both films also utilized the sound track to good effect. Kubrick used classical music to convey the lyrical sense of unhurried movement through ethereal. unimpeded space. Director Alfonso Cuarón used the soundtrack to amplify the tension that Dr. Ryan felt in her various circumstances as she battled to survive in her various scenarios.

Apollo 13 is another film that one might readily think of, especially with regard to the interactions with ground control in Houston. One difference between the films is that we never leave the point of view of Dr. Ryan. The only characters in Gravity that we really meet are Clooney and Bullock. We do hear other voices, including Ed Harris reprieving his role as the voice of Houston Ground Control.

A third film that came to mind at one point as I watched was Jurassic Park, not because of the similarity of story, but rather because of the similarity of emotional pacing. Both films seem designed to create a super-intense emotional rush followed by a catch-your-breath period only to take you to more intensity again, often in very unanticipated ways. To full engross yourself in the film you have to tamp down that inner critic that wants to say, "Isn't this getting a little formulaic?"

The film is more than a masterful re-creation of the weightlessness of outer space and astronaut life. There actually is a storyline woven through the heart of all the close calls and survival challenges. Dr. Ryan has to face the meaning of her life. Little by little her inner story emerges. It's a hero's quest of sorts, one we ourselves must wrestle with now and again. Why am I here? Or in this battle for survival, what am I fighting for?

She'd lost something precious. Would she find something to take its place?

It's worth renting if you missed it in theaters. 


Anonymous said...

To compare Gravity to 2001 is a major overstatement. 2001 ran for ten years in theaters. Gravity will be forgotten in one.

ENNYMAN said...

Thanks for the reality check. I was reacting emotionally to the experience of the film and found it an impressive achievement. The comparisons to 2001 are OK in that both do a remarkable job of simulating space. Kubrick did it BEFORE we ever walked on the moon, an even greater achievement. The film is a work of art on multiple levels and as I watch it again this weekend I am reminded of why I have watched it more than a dozen times, something I am certain will never happen with Gravit.
Thanks for the comment.