“I hate space,” Sandra Bullock grumbles about an hour into “Gravity,” and she’s got a point – space is awful. It’s either too hot or too cold, there’s nothing to do there, and nobody can hear you no matter how loudly you scream. Basically, it’s like spending time at my grandparent’s house! (Ha, ha! It’s joke-time, America! Bing-bong!)
But seriously, space is a death trap. It’s not a magical place where Dr. Who and a Wookiee link arms and prance across the rings of Saturn. Stop believing the honeyed lies of “Star Wars,” “Apollo 13,” and “Turkish Star Wars,” because every time you step into a space suit, you’re signing your own death warrant. Sure, you may escape the inexplicable control panel fires on your spaceship or avoid being impaled by the steady stream of space debris, but eventually you’re going to somehow become untethered from George Clooney and float helplessly through the cold uncaring void as your oxygen slowly depletes. “Gravity” is the only film to frankly examine the unceasing misery of being an astronaut.
In “Gravity,” Bullock plays a woman so depressed and broken that it’s not only surprising that she’s still allowed to be an astronaut but an astronaut who’s entrusted to repair the Hubble telescope. But, unlike her fellow crewmembers, Bullock’s aversion to joy and severe distaste for hopping around mindlessly in zero gravity actually manages to save her life when remnants of a decommissioned Russian satellite crash into her space shuttle. Along with surviving astronaut Clooney, Bullock is forced to make her way to a nearby space station, but it won’t be easy considering that she’s running low on oxygen, she’s constantly being pelted by meteors and space garbage, and all of her S.O.S. messages are being relayed by a clearly insane ham radio enthusiast who mostly communicates through barking.
Much has been made about the special effects found in “Gravity,” and rightfully so because the effects are so well-conceived and convincing it’s easy to forget “Gravity” wasn’t actually shot on location. (Incidentally, if you’re going to see this movie, you’re going to want to see it in IMAX. There’s a scene where Bullock cries all over your face and you can practically taste her grief.)
But “Gravity” is much more than the sum of its shiny, impressive parts. Boasting a truly compelling storyline, “Gravity” still would have worked if the characters floated around in front of obvious matte paintings on visible wires with fish bowls on their heads. Sure, the dialogue is frequently clunky and Clooney is so eerily laid back he’s practically yawning through his death scene (err, spoiler, sorry), but Bullock’s desperate stabs at survival take precedence over everything else. Basically, with “Gravity,” you’ll come to see the beautiful 3D shots of floating retainers and space corpses but stay for the engrossing, all-too-human storyline.
Granted, I might be overrating “Gravity” just a tiny bit being that it’s one of the rare films released this year that wasn’t a sequel, a remake, or based on a comic book, but it’s also one of those rare films about the triumph of the human spirit that doesn’t make me vomit in protest. I hate the human spirit. What has it ever done for me besides make me eat too many chicken wings and cause me to fall asleep at the mall?
Rating: W W W W