The first time I saw Gravity I gave up after half an hour: it was dull, tedious and I wasn’t in the mood. However, I didn’t want to naively discount a film which was praised by critics, loved by audiences and rewarded by the Academy; so I waited a few months before giving it another go, and this time I got to the end…
The most striking thing about the film is the way it looks. The backdrop of the Earth is beautiful and I can see why it would have been so impressive in the cinema. As for the artistic comparison between astronauts and unborn babies, I wasn’t that fussed. Similarly, I didn’t find the characters particularly interesting: which is probably why I turned it off the first time round. I like both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but Clooney seemed to be there more out of necessity than bringing anything interesting to the table, and Bullock’s character is only slightly more engaging. If you do lose interest in the characters then the film just floats and drags with little real tension: it’s an extended technical exercise and there is little left to enjoy.
For a film with a noticeable lack of characters, it is notable how lacking the character’s stories are. I do not disagree with the choice to set the entire film in space, but the way the story develops is limiting in an already limited environment. One of the reasons Cast Away is so effective is the setting allows for Tom Hanks’ character to tackle a variety of challenges in his bid for survival. For obvious reasons, Gravity doesn’t have this, but that is why it needs something more. There are very few variables in space and the only source of danger is coming from a shed load of debris. Considering that only a slight tear would be fatal, the implausibility of events will sit uncomfortably with some viewers: the impact is impressive, but after the calm of the first wave I was bored.
Perhaps it would have been more interesting if Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, had been alone for the entire duration of the film: with constant or at least more regular contact with someone on Earth. As it is, Stone is someone who is always panicking and is never really in control. I am not advocating a feminist lead for the sake of it, but she was a bit too astro-damsel-in-distress. This is someone who has been trained to go into space after all: it would have been nice if she had a bit more backbone to her. Instead we are left with someone completely out of their depth and are given a token part of her background as an emotional investment. Yes, it is sad: but it never develops. As the leading role I expected to engage with Stone the most, but the nature of the film prevents this from happening.
Gravity and Interstellar are of course completely different films, but what makes Christopher Nolan’s offering so compelling is that it is very much a human drama based upon simple concepts, which are then magnified in an epic space thriller. Gravity doesn’t have this and is comparatively lacking. I can only think that it was a case of right place at the right time in regards to the awards it won (other than the technical) as it is by no means the cinematic experience I had expected.
Some people might point to the fact that I didn’t see Gravity in the cinema and that most of its impact will have been lost; but I don’t buy into this argument. Of course the silver screen adds to the experience, but truly great films only require this to be an additional element, not a necessity.
For example, only a few days before I watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey on my laptop and was quite simply blown away. The film is a masterpiece. There is perhaps twenty minutes worth of dialogue, most of which is fairly inconsequential, but otherwise it is a stunning journey told entirely through an ingenious blend of visual and sound. The way in which Kubrick weaves the scenes to fit into the grand classical score means that one compliments the other perfectly and heightens the entire experience. There is little in the way of character interaction, and no one we particularly engage with, but the way in which 2001 was filmed means that this doesn’t matter. Kubrick is telling a story, no matter how bizarre, and produces one of the most influential films of all time.
I was surprised by how many awards Gravity won. The score adds little to the experience and as a film it is far too shallow to be a true Best Picture. Had it only been a Box Office hit I would have understood, but I’m not sure where all the acclaim has come from.
2001 is of course an absolute classic so there was never going to be any real comparison, but Kubrick really does drag Cuaron back to Earth. This is highlighted by Gravity‘s feeble ending, which some describe as reminiscent of Kubrick, when in reality it only smacked of imitation and jarred with the rest of the film. Up until this moment Gravity was nothing profound and nor was it trying to be: it lacked the clarity of Kubrick’s vision, and the humanity of Nolan’s Interstellar.
In the end Gravity is nothing more than a visually impressive but rather dull action film.