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17th February
2014
written by Mad Cow

Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language

Mad Cow’s Rating:

Nominated for 10 Oscars and coming off the Golden Globes and the BAFTA awards for Best Director, this may be the movie to beat this year. It has many of the makings of a Blockbuster, with derring-do, space shots, explosions and George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, no slouches in the acting department. Plus it’s in 3-D. What’s not to like?

Director Alfonso Cuarón, who wanted to be an astronaut as a young boy, wrote the original screenplay with his son Jonas Cuarón. George Clooney helped, albeit without credit. The movie tells the story of how the crew of the Space Shuttle Explorer, on a routine spacewalk, faces the destruction of their ship, hit by debris from an exploding Russian satellite. Only Ryan Stone (Bullock), a rookie medical engineer on her first mission, and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) a veteran astronaut and commander on his last before retirement, survive. Together they must figure how to get to another satellite before they run out of air, and ultimately of course back to earth.

Special pains were made to produce accurate lighting for the scenes outside the space craft. Cuaron created two “light boxes” for Bullock and Clooney so that their faces would correspond with the lighting (of sun and stars) in the background. Likewise care was taken to produce the sounds that astronauts would hear via waves going through their bodies in space. But of course liberties were taken. (See www.IMDB.com and search for Gravity/Trivia)

Mark Kelly, retired NASA shuttle commander (and husband of Gabby Giffords) wrote a column about the authenticity of the movie, remarking that astronauts don’t “fool around” outside the ship in the vacuum of space, and that in real life Stone and Kowalski would have known each very well, since they would have trained together for years to prepare for the repair they were making. In the movie they are strangers getting acquainted. Not to mention that a space station doesn’t fall out of orbit when (or if) it is hit with debris. In the fantasy world of movies, even when drawn from true adventures, untruths wouldn’t matter if the movie was any good. Unfortunately the liberties taken, especially with regard to Stone and Kowalski, do not add up to more than an ordinary plot.

Amid the grandeur of space, the dialogue is devastatingly pedestrian. We find out that Stone is depressed because of a disaster that befell her family. And while I’m aware that undoubtedly bad things happen to good astronauts, there’s a weakness here seemingly inserted to justify an ambivalence regarding saving herself when things get tough. So although we have a woman “hero,” she needs a man to help her face life. Sigh. If this lameness were countered with exciting escapades we could forgive, but somehow it falls flat. I attended the movie with family members who love science fiction and action movies and they were underwhelmed. I thought I was the only one.

I’m sure there was a reason, but couldn’t quite catch the necessity of Bullock taking off her space suit and floating around in her underwear, not overly revealing but allowing viewers to see her slim beautiful body, at one moment in what looks like a fetal position. I doubt that a male astronaut in a movie would have had a scene like this. Likewise at several points in which she is in trouble, she grabs a manual to try to get directions for remedying various problems. These moments are not exactly riveting visuals. It was more exciting seeing Robert Redford go about repairing his boat in All is Lost.

Note that most reviewers liked this movie. As always, you will have to decide for yourself.

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