Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Gravity (2013) Film Review SPOILERS!

I know I'm behind the times with this film but I've just got round to watching it after a script I wrote for uni got called the "anti-Gravity" and it intrigued me enough to watch the real deal.

In the title I've included a warning about spoilers but really, unless you're in the minority (me) it's been two years and you probably should have watched this by now. I'm definitely glad I did. I write notes as I'm watching and I ended up with five full A5 pages from this 90 minute film on various reactions and thoughts as it's playing. This is my general run-down of the whole film and review...


I haven't done any research or looked at other people's reviews yet because I don't want it tainting mine - I will when I've finished typing all this down - but I sincerely hope Sandra Bullock won not just an armful but a house full of awards for her performance. I've got to say it's one of the best I've ever, ever seen. It's so subtle and believable and she doesn't overact at any point. George Clooney seems to be playing himself, mostly, so he gets no credit from me. The screenwriters seemed to have put all of their attention on Bullock's lines as Dr Stone (subtle naming here: she’s Stone and she’s hard, unbreakable, determined, strong?!), because Kowalski (Clooney) has the most unrealistically calm and conversational tone even in the most dire of situations that I couldn't connect with the character. He's supposed to be laid back but he's completely horizontal with seemingly no care for himself or much for anyone else, either. Shariff, the third astronaut, was like a small puppy they'd brought along for the ride for entertainment purposes only. They ruined his character. Why on Earth (get it?) would they bring along a supposedly professional astronaut probably with around ten PhD's just for him to start bouncing out of the ISS, dancing and singing like an idiot, just to kill him off minutes later? What the hell? What was the point in him?

Does this picture not just make your skin crawl?

The subtitles that give facts about space was a good way to start, conveying the desolation and emptiness of space and making it an even scarier enemy for the astronauts. The transmissions as we pan over space were highly annoying because they were completely unintelligible and far too quiet. So if I was supposed to pick up on anything during those few minutes, I didn't. When we finally see the three characters it's a bit slow to begin with but the visuals of Earth were spectacular. Seeing Dr Stone float above Earth made me feel a bit funny with a horrible sense of vertigo and danger, as if she could somehow fall. The CGI was obviously necessary but until I got used to it, the whole thing felt a bit like a video game, because even their faces were computer graphics. The casual conversations began to flow a bit better, and when nothing is happening, I'm tense, waiting for something to happen. To keep things interesting for the viewer there's some unusual movement of the camera panning as if it was also in zero gravity with a flow and movement that's innovative and works really well within this pseudo-documentary style film, added to by the almost real-time run of events. The peace is disturbed by the danger and the music really adds to the danger. The debris passing them by is SO tense I was completely hooked. When Stone began spinning wildly off into space, slowly becoming just another speck in the huge mass of outer space, I thought she was done for. When she was compared to Earth in size I felt really emotional (I know...) about how tiny and vulnerable she was. It was dizzying and terrifying and I felt like I was there with her. But strangely, space never ceases in this film to still be awesome and beautiful yet there’s always a sense of foreboding about its sheer magnitude.


The intimate camera angles ramp up even further when we get so close we're actually inside Stone's helmet, and the feeling of claustrophobia is really effective. I don’t know how but Alfonso Cuaron (the director) really manages to suck you in until you forget you’re not an astronaut out there with them and you are, in fact, just watching a film. Kowalski’s return is a slight reprieve from the danger but he is far too calm but I understand they couldn't have just had all the characters losing their minds and going mental.

Then Stone is tethered to Kowalski, rescued by the knight in white armour, and dragged along to the next space station. Every time that damn tether whipped to its full extent I was so sure Stone was going to snap off and float away again, and the tension (somehow) only mounts and mounts from there. First we get Sharrif’s reappearance, sans half his face, and an emotional picture of his family to remind us they’re real people with families on Earth etc. Then there’s a countdown of Stone’s oxygen, then there’s a countdown of the reappearance of the deadly debris... It’s all going on. Kowalski is a requirement at this point just to stop the viewer from cutting off their own oxygen it’s all getting so depressing. To stop you getting complacent after that moment of calm there’s some piercing music while a corpse then floats in Stone’s face (petrifying) and a pan of all the other corpses (mentally scarring).

Never let go, Rose!

When Stone half-heartedly tries to persuade Kowalski to let her go I felt really glad he didn’t. Until this point we don't know much about either character and it was poignant and miserably ironic that Stone was actually less isolated in the wide expanse of space than on Earth with billions of other people. When they’re nearing the ISS and she’s got one percent I was thinking how convenient the timing was – until we then have probably a good ten minutes of Stone trying to get inside and not really worrying about her oxygen until right at the last second. I know she had some left in her space suit but surely not that much?

The real shocker for me was when Kowalski detached himself and floated off to die. Wow. I really expected them both to live in a “teamwork is the best way!” kind of moral message. Kowalski’s detatched voice is still calm but this time it’s really emotional, and slightly creepy. When he repeats, “Ryan, do you copy?” and you know he needs her now as much as she needs him, it killed me a bit inside. I also enjoyed the possible Titanic reference, when Kowalski (this isn’t an exact quote) says “You’re going to need to learn to let go” then “I’m going to need to hear you say you’ll make it.” Does everyone else remember Jack’s immortal words, “Never let go,” and the whole speech about saying she’s going to survive and be an old lady and have lots of babies? I know I’m sad. But the comparison is still there, and it was a bit jarring. Like, why is he trying to steal Jack’s lines? They’re for Rose, not Stone. The love-fest disappears when Stone promises to get him, then wastes a few minutes floating foetal-like in the shuttle. We even get a cable float in just the right place to look like an umbilical cord, in case we hadn’t got the symbolism already. It’s okay. It’s not like Kowalski’s oxygen is running out or anything.

Said umbilical cord.

In this new environment the fact it was filmed to be shown in 3D really becomes obvious. We have random objects flying out at us constantly and it gets a bit irritating, like when you get a single hair in your eye and you can’t find it to remove it for hours. But when she loses contact with Kowalski and we know that’s the end it’s extremely sad. Bullock plays this scene particularly well in conveying her loneliness is back, the one shot at friendship or love she had now gone, and she shuts herself down to tell Houston in scientific terms how everything around her is slowly turning to ruins. Then we have the fire. The well-timed catastrophe after catastrophe is good to keep pacing but predictable and tiresome. Absolutely nothing goes right for her, all problems are explained by the debris, but it gets a bit repetitive. “Let’s do this, oh no it’s broke, let’s do this, oh no it’s broke...” Give the girl a break!

A really effective moment of audio is the shift from when she’s in the shuttle and it’s all chaotic and loud, and then it shifts to a perspective from space and it’s literally silence. My ears didn’t know what to do with themselves. So well thought out to remind us of where she is, as in, not safe within that tiny little spacecraft. In the next scene where she never gives up hope and reads the manual and finds out what to do next, I began to appreciate what a good character Stone is. She’s like a feminist’s dream. She’s strong, capable, adaptable, she needs saving once or twice until she finds her feet and ends up saving him (temporarily), she’s smart and witty, and she’s actually a good role model for girls watching. But anyway, that’s beside the point.


When she’s removing the parachute from the shuttle I began to feel a bit bored. This was the first scene that had lagged for me. It could have been cut, really. When the camera moves with the spacecraft, to me it felt like a simulator ride, and a bit gimmicky. Then she gets back in and, obviously, the shuttle won’t start.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Stone laments. We feel your pain, sister. Her frustration mirrors our own at this point. Yet another catastrophe. It begins to lose its impact when it’s blatantly obvious nothing’s going to go without a hitch.

What I didn’t expect was for her to give up. When she starts losing her mind during the transmission with the Asian from Earth (which was a really nice twist) I was captivated. Another brilliantly acted scene from Bullock. When the hatch opened I thought she’d died and gone to heaven and Kowalski was waiting for her, and this was his entry pep talk. But I was proven wrong and he was just unlocking a piece of information vital to her survival that she wouldn't have gotten otherwise. But it was a bit paradoxical. Did she already know the information, deep down? Because she says herself she never did it. Or did he give her the information somehow, though it was just a dream? I don't know. It was nice seeing the two reunited though, and when he disappeared it was like he died all over again.

Is... is that another problem to be solved?
The talk she has with him afterwards, giving him messages to pass on to her daughter, and to give her a hug... Oh my word. Emotional. It cut deep.

“No more just driving. Let’s go home.” I loved this line. It wrapped up her old Earth life, her new space life, and how she had changed for the better. It was empowering and I felt like shouting encouragement at the TV screen.

(Just to sidetrack a moment: those bloody hatches! Why are they designed so poorly? Twice she nearly gets flung off into the depths of space because they open so quickly. Come on, NASA. Sort it out.)

I really enjoyed how when she’s got herself prepared and ready, she starts channelling Kowalski’s laid back attitude. The Stone has been broken, metaphorically speaking. Picking the right button just proves she is THE luckiest person ever, too. “And I have a bad feeling about this mission – ha!” Was really well acted and it felt like though he wasn't there, Kowalski was along for the ride, guiding her to Earth. His character’s left his mark on her.

On the descent I actually got a bit disappointed. Though the cinematography was amazing (as it had been all the way through) the cheesy, Armageddon-style, hero music of trumpets and drums was just way over the top and so stereotypical Hollywood blockbuster that it was cringe worthy. The rest of the film was so innovative and unique and this scene let it down. A total change in tone from the gritty electro music with heavy bass played during the first debris attack. I particularly liked the image of the shuttle pieces looking like shooting stars, though.

Stone in the worrying moments before we determine she ISN'T going to kiss the minging sand.

Then the final scene. She lands in water which was quite an effective comparison to the conditions she’d just escaped in space – isolation, no air, no gravity, no sound – and I was just thinking please don’t let her die now. I was really rooting for Stone. Then when she begins walking really weirdly and I was thinking “WTF? You need to get a move on, Stone.” And then I realised she had jelly legs like when you get off a trampoline after a while of jumping around and you’ve forgotten how to walk on solid ground. When the final title came up and it was the end, the only thought my brain could process was, “WOW.”

"Just, like, try and be less depressing."


Rotten Tomatoes: 97% - This one is made up by critics and they normally like this kind of arty, slow paced film. However I definitely agree with this score and also with the term "visually stunning" - I literally wrote that phrase in my notes for one of the beginning scenes.

IMDb: 7.9/10 - This one's made up of the general public and at a guess I'd say the pacing was probably the issue for non-critics who want a good film to get their teeth stuck into and not so much of a CGI project. 
          In "Awards" the film won 218 awards!!! WOW! I didn't expect it to do so well but I honestly think it's deserved. This is one film that's actually lived up to it's own hype. Also Sandra Bullock didn't win an Oscar for her performance? Who was judging this?!
          In "References" Titanic isn't there? What? But is similar to Barbarella from 1983 because "After boarding the russian station, Ryan starts undressing in zero gravity in a way very similar to Barbarella's opening scene." Who complies this list?
          In "Goofs" a particularly interesting one is: "When Kowalski asks Stone to let go of him because the rope will not them both, that could never happen because they are both in the same orbit around the earth. A short simple tug would have brought him back to her." Goddamnit, Stone, Clooney could have lived!!!!!!!!
          Woo! Some Bullock love from "James Cameron, best friend of CuarĂ³n and a huge fan of the film, said "She's the one that had to take on this unbelievable challenge to perform it. (It was) probably no less demanding than a Cirque du Soleil performer, from what I can see. There's an art to that, to creating moments that seem spontaneous but are very highly rehearsed and choreographed. Not too many people can do it. ... I think it's really important for people in Hollywood to understand what was accomplished here.""
          And finally, this review is actually really well timed because "the space-suit that Dr. Stone puts on in the Russian Soyuz capsule has the number 42 on the patch. This places the film between September 2014 and March 2015 as the Expedition number 42 will be underway on the International Space Station."

What an absolute show-stopper of a film. I absolutely loved it and I’ll definitely be seeing it again in the future. Apart from a few minor flaws I think it was spectacular. If I had to sum it up in two words: engrossing & sublime. Definitely worth a watch. If only for Bullock’s amazing breath-acting all the way through.