Space Junk: 'Gravity' Pulled Down By Throwaway Script

By Carman Tse

Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity has been favorably compared to the Kubrick and Clarke's masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey since its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival. But the two are starkly different films for a variety of reasons—you may as well compare Star Trek Into Darkness to Solaris—the greatest difference between the two is that 2001 transcends its genre trappings while Gravity becomes bogged down by convention and a hackneyed script.

In a modern twist of the shipwreck movie, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts stranded far, far away from home when space junk from a Russian satellite destroys their shuttle and leaves them as the sole survivors. For their heroes' journey, both must race against their depleting oxygen and jetpack fuel all the way to International Space Station to take the escape pod back to earth.

It's a simple premise from which screenwriters can weave any number of ideas into but instead Cuarón and his son Jonás opt for banality. Despite what must be the sheer terror of floating aimlessly in space with no contact, never once is there any sense of psychological dread. Instead, a feeble attempt at injecting emotional heft the backstory of a dead child is introduced for one of the astronauts. Unfortunately, this only becomes utilized in two of the most cringe-worthy film moments of the year: a scene where one of the astronauts must learn to literally "let go" (but also metaphorically, get it?) and in a climactic moment where a eulogy is spoken for a comrade set adrift.

As for pure spectacle, Gravity delivers but rarely impresses. Zero-g action sequences of destruction miles above earth are fun, especially well-done for IMAX 3D, but don't feel like more than just an extended cut of a sizzle reel for any summer blockbuster. Cuarón utilizes his infamous long takes for many of these scenes but hardly for any purpose beyond showboating. Even though the fact that sounds don’t travel through space (as is declared in text at the very beginning of the movie), the movie gets gratingly loud at times, and this is helped in no small part by Steven Price’s excessive score.

Ironically, these action sequences underserve the scale of Gravity. When showing Sandra Bullock and George Clooney being flung around the floating debris of the crumbling International Space Station, the movie becomes necessarily tighter in its framing at the expense of the enormous CG sets. Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera is at its best when it is observing from afar, whether it is the beautiful vista of watching the sun rise over the arc of Planet Earth (highly evocative of his Oscar-nominated work on The Tree of Life) or the pure chaos of watching all of the International Space Station disintegrate from a great distance. But these moments that inspire awe are merely interludes in a film lacking in imagination.

Gravity opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow, in IMAX and IMAX 3D.

Carman Tse is a native of Northern California but not one of Those Guys that hates on Los Angeles (despite his affection for the Giants over the Dodgers). When he's not sharing long-winded thoughts on movies, he's probably sharing long-winded thoughts on baseball or reading about weird sea creatures.