Year Released: 2013
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
(PG-13, 91 min.)
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Awards: 2014 Oscar for Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón
“Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one.” Henry David Thoreau
If you want to read another gushing review of this space thriller, go somewhere else. Yes, it is a technical triumph, but the tail is wagging the dog here. What about a story featuring characters we genuinely care about?
Given that this site is named after a Thoreau quote, how fitting that this review also honors him. Because, like the quote above, this review began with a majority of one. And it wasn’t yours truly whose crap detector went off on red alert during the block buster/critically acclaimed new release. That crap detector belongs to my better half, who having grown up on the South Side of Chicago and lived to tell about it, does not suffer fools gladly.
I certainly enjoyed the Sandra Bullock vehicle, much as I enjoyed Speed, the 1994 film that rocketed her to fame. Her character here is careening through space instead of the streets of LA, but she is still the scared but determined ingénue forced to take control of a situation spiraling out of control. Only in this case, the thing spiraling out of control is not some city bus, but medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone herself.
Yes, we all love Sandra. She even calls my own Austin, Texas, home –– at least it is one of them along with her places in Savannah and New Orleans. And true, the 49 year old looks in tremendous shape in her little space undies. Some 19 years after her debut as aimless clerk having to ride the bus because her driver’s license was suspended, Bullock is now elevated to a medical doctor. But, sadly, she was more in control of the 1994 vehicle – both the film and the bus – than she is here.
While everyone else is busy goggling at the special effects, oohing and ahhing in a groupthink chorus that recalls George Orwell’s 1984, some of us want more than eye candy. Certainly, I enjoyed the spectacle of Dr. Stone’s endeavors in boundless space and claustrophobic cubicles to find her way back to earth. This film is right up there with other spectacular adventures, and it obviously deserves credit for its technical brilliance.
In fact, many critics have been blown away by the opening 15 minutes or so and the splendor of this long take. But as Jeffery Overstreet has brilliantly observed:
It’s somewhat distinct in the way its digital trickery delivers the illusion of “long takes,” but how do you assess a long take if most of what you’re seeing was produced on computers? (As a friend said, that’s like congratulating Pixar for a “long take.”
A few, a mighty beleaguered few, I might add, are similarly unimpressed. Here are excerpts from other “minority reports.”
Compared to Gravity‘s undercooked script, Jurassic Park is a drama of Shakespearean dimensions, Contact was a film of timeless theological significance, and Cast Away was a Cormac McCarthy masterpiece. Jeffrey Overstreet
It’s a very good film technically. Nothing more. Rhett Barlett
But my problem is the very conventional story which, too soon, kicks in. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) stops being a sexist charmer with a barrage of goofy one-liners and flies away, perhaps dead and gone. He leaves poor Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a novice in space, to fend for herself. And he leaves her to reveal her unhappy, cloying backstory, the yuckiest part of the movie. Gerald Peary
It’s not her fault that the character is about as complex as a video game avatar. Jeffery Overstreet
Lines of dialogue at times are childish, and the male role feels like it was directly written for George Clooney in mind. References to his good looks make his character’s demeanour unconvincing. Cringeworthy. It feels like he’s “phoning it in.” Rhett Barlett
But the movie involves a far more menacing emptiness than the physical void of outer space: the absence of ideas. . . .Richard Brody
We’re bludgeoned with spectacle and severity, as if Cuarón and Company are mad amusement park ride operators who keep spinning people around until they’re sick.. Jeffrey Overstreet (Overstreet is so good, you should read the whole thing here.)
Botton line from Different Drummer: A great thriller, but not the Oscar worthy film everyone is raving about. Ulimately, Gravity has no gravitas.
All the action in this thriller starts when an American space station is blown apart by space debris. Dr. Stone’s fellow astronaut, Matt Kowalski, George Clooney more or less playing himself, or at least, his go to sexist charmer type, decides their salvation lies in the derelict Russian space station, which incidentally, he casually observes, features a hidden stash of Vodka.
Here, in a tribute to his laid back character is a White Russian Milkshake with just enough caffeine to counter the sedative effects of the liquor. We have to keep our stranded astronauts alert, don’t we?
White Russian Milkshake
1 (14-ounce) container vanilla ice cream
1 ounce coffee liqueur, such as Kahlúa
1 ounce vodka
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
Place all of the ingredients in a blender. Pulse 8 to 10 times or until mostly smooth. Pour into a chilled glass and serve.