“Gravity” is only an hour-and-a-half long, has only two stars on screen, has more monolog than dialog and less of either than background music. It’s going to knock your socks off.
It was directed and o-written by Alfonso Cuarón who wanted to be a film director and an astronaut as a kid.
As the film opens Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a mission specialist performing repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope while astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is skylarking around nearby in a jet pack, anticipating this will be his last mission and the end of his dream of beating the world spacewalk record.
Stone is obviously uncomfortable in space, she’s a specialist not an astronaut.
They get word there is a Kessler syndrome event triggered by the Russians blowing up one of their old satellites with a missile.
Kessler syndrome is a theory proposed by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978. If something as big as the International Space Station were smacked hard enough to break it up, it would trigger a catastrophic debris chain-reaction creating an orbiting debris field in near earth orbit which would make it impossible to launch space missions or satellites for decades.
Before they can get back to the shuttle and initiate reentry a cloud of space debris moving at meteoric speeds damages the shuttle, killing all inside and one other astronaut on spacewalk. All communications satellites are destroyed, cutting off contact with the earth.
They are the only survivors, and Stone’s oxygen is running out.
There ensues a desperate battle for survival while racing against the clock. The debris field sweeps by every 90 minutes.
They must first get to the International Space Station in space suits, then to the Chinese Space station Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) to try and find a reusable reentry vehicle.
“Gravity” is set in the near future when we again have a space shuttle. The Chinese have expanded Tiangong, now a one-room efficiency in space, to the ISS-sized station they have planned.
It reportedly languished in development hell for four years while the technology to film it came online. While filming Bullock had to spend nine to ten hours a day in a specially designed chamber hanging from wires in a spacesuit, communicating only through a headset.
It was worth it, and it’s going to be hard for her to top this. Bullock is so good it’s hard to believe they even considered anyone else for the role. She moves from panic, getting a grip, courage, resolution, despair, defiance, and joy in the space of minutes with utter conviction.
There are some technical quibbles. Evidently the Hubble is on a slightly different orbit from the ISS making getting from one to the other in a jet pack problematical. At one point Stone swaps space suits for one off the rack in the ISS. I understand each suit is a million dollar custom-made one-of-a-kind. But since we get to see Sandra Bullock floating weightless in shorts and a T-shirt I’m not going to complain.
Legendary astronaut “Buzz Aldrin” said the view of earth was a bit too sharp – but he loved the movie anyway.
You could say “Gravity” is an action thriller, where the protagonist goes from one hair-breadth escape to another, and you’d be right.
You could also say it’s a special effects movie, with spectacular scenery involving lots of stuff blowing up in weightlessness and the eerie silence of space, and you’d be right too.
It’s a wonderfully precise character development movie. Wisecracking Kowalski brings out everything, I mean everything you need to know about Stone in one short dialog. Stone was a mother once, whose little girl died in a freak playground accident. Since then, she hasn’t had a life, she has a job.
Heck it’s a lot of things. It’s “Men Against the Sea” in space. It’s a fictionalized “Apollo 13” (1995) on “Speed” (1994), complete with Ed Harris back in mission control.
But most of all it’s a story about courage, perseverance and fighting to live when it would be so easy just to curl up and die.
It is in fact about all the qualities we’ll need to take on the endless adventure that awaits us beyond the sky.