I tried to ignore all the hype about the new film “Gravity,” because I didn’t want the film, which I was desperate to see, to fall short of expectations.
But that’s exactly what happened, despite my best efforts.
All the breathless chatter about how “Gravity” is one of the best sci-fi films ever made, up there with “2001” and “Solaris,” had an impact: By the end of the film, I was scratching my head, wondering how anybody could make such a claim. “Gravity” is a pretty good movie, but a great one? Maybe I’ll feel differently once all the hype has died down, but right now I’d have to say no.
From a technical standpoint, “Gravity” is fantastic. I paid $18 to see it at the IMAX at Crossgates Mall, and it was money well spent. So if you’re going to see this film, you really owe it to yourself to see it on the biggest, most sophisticated screen possible. Because here’s what this film does well: It makes you feel like you are floating in space. I don’t know how you can recreate that experience in 2D, or at home on your TV.
Director Alfonso Cuaron is a talented director, and “Gravity” has raised the bar for 3D and CGI, much as “Avatar” did a few years back. Watching “Gravity” is a visceral experience: When space debris flies toward the space crew manned by Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), you feel as if it’s about to hit you. And when Kowalski attempts to rescue Stone, who has become detached from the shuttle, you feel as if you, too, are adrift in space and fighting for survival. “Gravity” is the rare film where the special effects help make for a surprisingly emotional experience. When the characters feel something, so do you.
Because “Gravity” is being discussed in such rapturous terms by the nation’s film critics, I kept waiting for it to be about something more than what it’s like to float around in space. But it really doesn’t have much in the way of ideas. Unlike “2001” and “Solaris,” “Gravity” doesn’t really give viewers much to think about or chew over. It provides sensation and spiritual uplift, but little else.
The film I was most reminded of while watching it was last year’s “Life of Pi,” another movie that was cutting-edge in its use of special-effects and unabashedly spiritual. When SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! the recently killed Kowalski suddenly appears to offer much-needed guidance and inspiration, I couldn’t help but think of the aid provided by the imaginary tiger Richard Parker in “Life of Pi.” Of course, anyone who’s seen Cuaron’s great 2006 science-fiction film “Children of Men” knows he doesn’t shy away from religious themes and metaphors.
“Gravity” is an accomplishment, but it’s not exactly the accomplishment I was looking for. I wanted to see a film that was engaging from a technical standpoint, but also intellectually and emotionally. Bullock and Clooney are both very good, but I found it difficult to care about their characters. They seemed like nice people, but I wasn’t hugely invested in the outcome.
Which leaves me wondering: What will I remember about “Gravity” when I look back on it at the end of the year? Well, the view of Earth from space, for starters, and the ominous, terrifying beauty of all that flying debris. And for now, maybe that’s enough.
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