Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: GRAVITY: Hype or Ventilation?

As I wandered a little lost out of the Imax complex in the Carlton gardens as the credits continued to roll back in the cinema for this film I overheard a grey eminence behind me say to his companion in that flat tone adopted by all men who think their voices should turn grey when their hair does,"the movies don't really know about inertia". Well, people who judge movies on their science don't really know much about fiction. Gravity is not a documentary. Despite it's setting it's not even science fiction. It is a survival tale with such unrelenting white knuckle action that to stop and worry about the accuracy of its depiction of inertia is one of the most bumfacedly stupid responses to it I can imagine.

Ryan is a specialist sent into space to add a gadget to the Hubble telescope. A disaster strikes which results in a tide of high speed deadly debris hurtling in the orbit her team are in. It slices through the hardware like razorblades through shaving gel. The team are cast adrift in wild spins into space or get the debris treatment. From this point the question is how are they going to get back home the easy way (without getting torched by the atmosphere on eventual re-entry). That's the plot. It's not 2001: A Space Odyssey but it isn't trying to be. Ryan is spinning in space and her oxygen is running out from all that panicky hyperventilation she can't help doing. Can she get back? That's it.

Survival tales don't need plot but they must have a string of high-stakes tight squeezes to confirm the arc. The theme rings louder. Can someone fresh to this hostility (compare it to something like The Abyss set in the deep ocean) find her courage and fight for herself and win her spot on the earth? Gravity provides the thrills pausing only for its audience to take a breath here and there but then plunging into the next life or breathless, colddeath situation with an increasing pace. And they are gripping. My body was rigid with tension repeatedly and I had to force myself to breathe more than once. Everytime a character had to find a handhold as a point of sanctuary sped past them I was shuddering.

See with this kind of delivery who needs character development or profound dialogue? Are you going to suffocate or live? Given the situation that shits all over Keats. But this is the kind of film that covers its exposition in dialogue and budgets a little more for character background and motivation. A lot of it does sound like screenplay seminar writing. Then again, I was there for the space and the thrills and cared not a gold standard jot for the behaviour of things in orbit, inertia in space or anything that got in the way of Sandra Bullock getting breath, let alone breathing space.

Sandra Bullock has no real problem going from her wisecracking comedy to stone faced fare like this. The film is on her shoulders. The urbanity of George C. Looney is there for that writing class exposition and some lashings of larky charm that he gets paid for. Mostly it's down to Bullock to haul us with her to the edge of annihilation and we are happy to be hauled.

This was the popping of my cherry for 3D. A lot more was made of it in the various branding showcases and trailers than in the feature but it was pleasant restraining myself from reaching for the bolt that went floating off beside me and I enjoyed wincing and almost ducking when some of that razor debris was speeding my way. One odd thing was towards the end of the film when everything amps up to maximum action I had the sensation that the Imax screen I was looking at was no bigger than my home tv, contained, encapsulated in the scope of the fx spex. Odd. If you miss out on a 3D viewing you haven't really missed much. Try, though, to see it big.

My best tribute to this film that hits its marks, delivers its payload and gets out of there in a tidy ninety minutes is that its stakes are so solidly declared that it would work if the sound failed at the screening. Not something you'd wish when seeing Twelve Angry Men, of course (what the FUCK are they jabbering about?) but should apply to all great action movies.

There is a moment in which we are invited to ponder the progress of our species from the murky primordial soup and into the heavens. The good part about that is that you don't have to think as it's so tightly woven into the central hazard that a retrospective thought will cover it: something small but poignant on offer for anyone looking. Nice. See it. It's bona fide white knuckle joy.

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