The movie, Gravity, was a stunning viewing experience. I went for 3D-IMAX, hoping I could hold off the motion-sickness. It didn’t turn out to be a problem, thankfully. Though the movie felt extraordinarily immersive, very real.
Well, up to a point, which I will get to anon. The sound was brilliant – everything came through the helmet, no ambient noise at all. The light was what you recognized from pictures and videos in space – no atmospheric blurring. The views of Earth were stunning, and such a warm, colorful contrast to the monochrome materials we send into orbit. All the little details were lovingly etched, re-created in excruciating detail to provide the ultimate verisimilitude of being in space.
Which is why I was so disappointed by being thrown out of such a divine experience by continual errors in logic and physics. I know it’s a movie. I know there must be a dramatic narrative along with the spectacular visuals – otherwise I should just go to the IMAX theatre at the National Air & Space museum (when/if it re-opens) and watch a documentary actually filmed in orbit.
Okay, it’s a movie, there has to be a story – difficulties to be encountered, obstacles to be overcome, tragedies to be narrowly averted or absorbed with breathless disbelief. Tension, conflict, struggle, failure, sacrifice, grief, triumph, resolution. The movie had all of these, packed incredibly tightly, along with tropes belonging to every disaster/thriller/horror movie you have ever seen. I think the plot fell somewhere between Armageddon and Apollo 13, with some of the cooler elements of The Red Planet tossed in. I enjoyed all of those movies, for what they were. But I wish Gravity had aspired to be another Apollo 13, rather than imitating the overwrought smash-fest of Armageddon.
Remember Apollo 13? The movie where everyone *knew* how it ended, and yet we were still on the edges of our seats? One disaster (one!) with a cascade of subsequent emergencies, each one requiring enormous ingenuity to solve when time and resources were so desperately limited. Ron Howard had the benefit of being able to show the earth-bound reactions to the crippled moon-shot, which is where a great deal of the emotional resonance was created. We could relate to the cold, stranded astronauts in their cramped lunar module, but mostly we were one of the people on the ground, looking up, praying for them to find some way of making it back home. Because that’s a more familiar view for us, looking up through a cloud-swept blue sky, not gazing down from an airless black void.
But that’s where we were during Gravity. Alone, cut-off, isolated from everything that made life possible, except for those few tiny, scattered bubbles tossed up there and forever falling downwards. It is a compelling, terrifying image, and I appreciated the effort made to take us to that place, to show us what it would be like to be adrift in an environment that will kill in seconds without heroic measures to prevent it.
And that, I think, is all the tension truly necessary. There didn’t need to be a new disaster a new deadly obstacle every five minutes. I think I could have forgiven some of the eye-rolling orbital mechanics, if only the number of devastating catastrophes had been reduced.
This is space. We have seen what tragedy results from even the smallest of impacts. You don’t need an earthbound sense of scale in an environment where there simply is no margin for error.