I saw Children of Men in 2006 when it came out in the theaters. It remains in the top five worst movies I have ever seen. And of course, by ‘worst’ movies – I mean movies I personally have hated. Others on that list are The Fountain (Darren Aronofsky), The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam), The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles), and Untraceable (Gregory Hoblit). I list the directors because I always blame directors when I hate movies. Children of Men was critically lauded as being imaginative and striking. I thought it was pretentious and horrific, plus I can’t stand Clive Owen, not sure why.
In any case, it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and was enough of a reason for me to never see anything he ever directed again. His Harry Potter – the third, my favorite of the books and the movies – was in 2004, before Children of Men. So when previews for Gravity first started showing up with his name on it, I was fairly certain I was never going to see this movie. Then my brother pre-screened it several months ago, and daily for those months he kept telling me that I had to see it. Fine, I gave in.
And, here’s the surprise – it is easily the most technically well done movie I have seen this year. The effects are stunning, the sound is incredible, and the performances – well, the performance – is exceptional. That being said, I am not sure I would say that I “enjoyed” the movie, but it certainly was an experience.
Ryan Stone is a medical engineer with 6 months of training for her first shuttle mission. She is paired with veteran astronaut Matt Kowlasky, who seems to be on his last mission. They are working on repairs to the Hubble Telescope, when that sequence you see in the trailers starts. Apparently the Russians shoot down one of their own satellites, causing a storm of debris to go hurtling through the atmosphere. As tiny bits of debris destroy the shuttle and most of the crew, Stone gets cut loose from her attachment and goes circling off into space. Kowalsky recuses her, and the two of them must make their way towards the international Space Station to find an escape pod to head back to earth. That’s it – that’s the whole plot. And yes, it really is only the two of them in this movie. Ed Harris occasionally talks to them as Houston, but they lose communications pretty early on. Okay – and here’s your spoiler alert – seriously, don’t read any further if you haven’t seen this movie – because you really should go see it right now. See it as big as you can (IMAX if possible) and in 3D – it is stunning.
I have to discuss what happens in detail to tell you the issues I had with the movie – and there are very few. Once they head towards the ISS, they encounter all sorts of difficulties. One of the escape pod’s parachutes has deployed, causing the station to be surrounded by tiny ropes. They get caught in them, and grab hold. The ropes go taut, and Stone is caught by her foot – and she’s holding the connection to Kowalsky, which then also goes taut. He then states that he is pulling her away, and he needs to disconnect to save her. Okay – my degree is not in physics, but I know that’s not how momentum in a vacuum works. They were taut, all she had to do was give one good tug to bring him towards her, then they both would have gone crashing into the station. If they needed a dramatic way for him to sacrifice himself for her, there was plenty of other terrible nonsense happening. Once in the escape pod, Stone somehow manages to dial in a radio broadcast of a Chinese man calling his dogs and then singing a lullaby – what? That goes on way too long, and makes no sense. Then there’s some issues with the fact that the Hubble, the ISS, and the Chinese Space Station all seem to be on exactly the same horizontal plane in space so that you can shoot from one to the next. But again – as I said, those are all minor things, and the key part of this movie is the action, suspense, intensity, and the performance.
- I say performance instead of performances because George Clooney (Matt Kowalsky) essentially plays George Clooney in space. He doesn’t do any stretching, but it’s not really called for. He does some beautiful non-verbal acting as he is drifting away – but you almost miss it.
- Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone and really – this is 100% her movie. She is nervous and timid in the beginning, then strong and determined towards the end with an important transition in the middle. She does a great job. She is sure to be nominated for an Oscar, and whether or not she wins depends largely on what other performances from other movies get nominated. You could make the point that you’re not entirely sure how good her performance is because there is no one else in the movie to compare it to, but then, that could also work in her favor. The performance is very real, and not over-the-top. She is believable, and incredibly engaging.
- Ed Harris does lend his voice to mission control – but again, he’s barely there.
You really do need to see this movie. It’s almost this year’s Argo. It’s a complete surprise how amazing it is. It’s the most visceral movie I have seen in a long time. You feel every bit of it, including the absolute panic of the disaster. Bullock does spend half the movie grabbing for things as she floats past them, which is so well done that the majority of the theater goers wanted to start grabbing at things to help her. Someone asked me if maybe the casting of Clooney and Bullock was ‘stunt-casting’, because really, would it have done as well without them? I think the answer is not initially, but it is so well-crafted that it would have done well, but probably not as well. I cannot think of another actress that would have pulled off the relatability of Stone as well, and I think that is one of the strongest points of the movie.
8 out of 10 – I’m taking away one point for Clooney continuing to play annoying country music, and I’m taking away a point for him not understanding physics and letting himself drift away. I will also take away some points for the dead bodies floating in the remains of the shuttle, and for the astronaut with the hole in his head – not sure we needed to see that. I am giving back those points for the stunning visuals, the amazing sound, and Bullock’s performance. And for making me try to grab at pieces of space stations so I didn’t float away. Without the ‘howling with the dogs lullaby’ sequence, I would have given it a 9.
Bonus Video 1: Space Camp! I used to love this movie.
Bonus Video 2: Space Cowboys! Also very good.
Bonus Video 3: Alien, because while Bullock’s Stone is good – she’s sure as hell no Ripley. And you know, in Space – no one can hear you scream.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: