I recently took another look at Alfonso Cuarón’s 2013 film, Gravity, curious as to whether I’d been too hard on it with my original movie review. With a second viewing, I wanted first to see how well the special effects held up on the small screen. Second, I wanted to see if all the nit-picky nerd-anger I’d directed toward the film was warranted. I remembered finding a lot of little things wrong with Gravity which prevented the film from being the peerless triumph many claim it is. For Cuarón to accomplish such a landmark technical achievement, only to queer the pitch through subpar dialogue and occasional gaps in logic, felt, to me, like a real missed opportunity. I was pissed. For me, a good movie that could have easily been great, is far more infuriating than a crappy movie that never had a real chance anyway. Hence the anger in my first Gravity review.
Upon second viewing, I came to the conclusion that maybe I was a bit unfair to Gravity the first time around. The thing’s entertaining. It’s very very hard to take your eyes off the screen. The special effects take the cake as the most effective and well-incorporated computer generated imagery since the original Jurassic Park. And then there’s the run-time. Having recently endured Martin Scorsese’s catastrophically long The Wolf of Wall Street, I was shocked to re-discover that Gravity ran a mere hour-and-a-half. I was like: Ohmigod, could this really be so? What big name director has the balls and artistic integrity to dare put out such an appropriately lean, polished movie? I mean, where’s all the endless half-funny improv scenes, and the redundant motivational speeches?
In fact, so infuriated was I with the revelation that Scorsese all of a sudden thinks our love for him is blind and unconditional, I actually sort of fell in love with Gravity’s mercifully reasonable run-time. Thank you, Alfonso, for being considerate of your audience, even if the most probable reason you kept your movie so short was because you didn’t have the budget to make it any longer. As for you, Scorsese—I think you should be the first director ever to release, on DVD, an “Editor’s Cut” of your latest film. Tell your long-time collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker to have a field day. Because you’re supposed to kill your darlings, Martin, not have them over for a party.
But I digress. Fact of the matter is, though I enjoyed Gravity much more on second viewing, a few things still bothered me. Stupid little things that could have been so easily rectified with just a little extra TLC (or THC), and these things are what keep this great movie from being a masterpiece. I’ve consolidated them into five separate grievances.
Gravity Review: My 5 Film-Snob Gripes with the Movie
1.) Everybody in the “spacewalk” section of the movie—Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris (as the sober voice of mission control)—sound like they recorded their dialogue in a small soundproofed room with a microphone. Which, of course, is exactly what they did. George Clooney, in particular, sounds way too crisp, clean, and Dolby Surround Sound for a man who’s essentially hurdling thousands of miles a second around the Earth, facing his own impending death. I would have loved if Alfonso Cuarón had made an effort to mimic that uniquely messy audio transmission style you hear whenever a real-life astronauts communicating with someone down on Earth. In real life (or at least on NASA TV) you actually hear the crackly transmitter clicking on and off, almost like a Walkie Talkie. I think this effect would have added a whole new layer of realism to the film. This also would have helped take the edge off of some of that cliche dialogue.
2.) This one might seem mega nit-picky, but I found it annoying that Sandra Bullock’s character’s name was Ryan Stone. Seriously? Besides the fact that Ryan Stone is the most cliche name possible for a character who “doesn’t let anyone in,” there’s the additional lameness that she has a boy’s name. And why was she named Ryan? Because her dad had really wanted a son. Real original, Fignuts! I’ve never seen that one before! Hate to break this to Alfonso, but giving female characters boy’s name feels like a rookie screenwriting gimmick meant to charge your character with some quick “uniqueness” without having to do any real work for it. As an occasional (wannabe) screenwriter myself, I fully understand the temptation to NOT name your female character something like Sally or Jen or Barbara—it just looks lame and unoriginal on the page, and makes you feel like you suck. But choosing to give your character a boy’s name is a tired gimmick that a movie with Gravity’s ambition and scope and budget shouldn’t have bothered with. Unless, of course, the fact that Ryan’s dad had really wanted a boy has at least some thematic bearing on the plot, which it most certainly did not.
3.) While I’m willing to overlook quite of bit of Gravity’s hard-to-swallow science (like George Clooney’s inexhaustible jet-pack fuel reserves, or the fact that the explosion of a single Russian satellite can cause so catastrophic a chain reaction of cascading space junk in MINUTES), I really didn’t like how the International Space Station had a direct line-of-sight to the Chinese Space Station. As if the two stations are part of some kind of low-earth-orbit industrial business park. I mean, is there a Sandwich N’ Coffee Capsule flying around nearby too? I understand the storytelling need to have these stations so close to each other, but, in real life, there’s no way two full-sized space stations would be that close to each other, not with all the “space” readily available up there. What is this, the buddy system? There’s at least as much real estate up there as there is surface area on Earth. Spread out boys! I think it would have been appropriate that the writers include at least one line of dialogue explaining—or even just hinting at—why these two stations were so close together. They could have said it had something to do with cooperation between space agencies. They could have even freakin said the words “buddy system”, I don’t care. But as it stands, I wonder if the writers realize that space is kinda large. This reminds me of the dollar-store idiots who wrote the new Star Trek reboot, who had Spock say asinine things like “The supernova threatens the entire galaxy!” Space is a lot bigger than the diagrams in your 5th grade text books might imply, fellas. And, just so you know: in space, the planets aren’t even labeled.
4.) Here’s another Clooney-centric complaint. As much as I like him, I just didn’t buy how outrageously composed his character was for ALL of his scenes. Cracking jokes. Smirking. Twinkle in his eye even as he sacrifices his own life. I mean, I get it: his character is a long time space veteran; this is just another walk in the park for him, yadda yadda yadda. But, c’mon, really? I would have liked at least one moment where he looked a bit freaked. I’m not saying I needed to see him crying with 3D space tears wobbling toward camera, but why not a quick shot of the Cloon taking, like, a deep nervous breath? It wouldn’t have killed the movie. Though it may have taxed Clooney’s acting range.
5.) At the end, after Sandra Bullock crash-lands in the lake, swims to shore, climbs to her feet, and takes her first few steps as a reborn woman finally at peace with the death of her child (who we never see, but whose death we are supposed to buy as the cause of Sandra Bullock’s general loneliness in life), I would have liked to see at least two apes show up on horseback, rifles in hand, arguing with each other in English accents about how the Lawgiver foresaw such a day as this, a day when, deep in the Forbidden zone, a human female fell from the sky, a female who could speak (!) the language of the apes.
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