Gravity - 2013
I don’t remember which film I was at this past spring when I saw the trailer for Gravity, but I do know that I said that I had to go to this one as soon as it hit the big screen. I did see it today and was very much impressed.
Astronaut Matt Kowalski and Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone are on a mission to make repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the shuttle Explorer. While on a spacewalk, Kowalski is testing out a jet-pack, performing maneuvers. From what I could gather from his dialog, he is an astronaut on his final mission and is going to make the most of it. At the same time, Dr. Stone is working from the shuttle’s Canada Arm on the telescope’s repairs. There are three other members of the shuttle crew with one outside in the cargo bay apparently working on experiments, and two others on the inside of the shuttle. The shuttle crew is informed by Mission Control that the Russians have attempted to destroy one of their own satellites by shooting it down with a missile. The shuttle crew is further informed that this situation should not interfere with their mission.
Well, the situation changes rather rapidly when it is discovered that the debris from the destroyed satellite will indeed cause a threat to everything in the same orbit, including Explorer and her crew. It isn’t long before the Explorer crew is informed to abort the mission due to the threat. Kowalski jettisons the Hubble, but before the crew can reach safety, the debris field reaches the shuttle and causes catastrophic damage to it, and the deaths of everyone on the crew except for Kowalski and Stone. Unfortunately, apparently the entire communications network, so there are no lines of communications between Mission Control and the surviving astronauts.
When the shuttle is destroyed, Dr. Stone finds herself spinning off alone. She is rescued by Kowalski, but it takes almost all of the fuel in his jet-pack. Kowalski decides to head over to the nearby International Space Station to use a Soyuz to return to Earth. After a rather long trip to the ISS, Kowalski is forced to sacrifice himself because if he doesn’t, both he and Dr. Stone will die. Dr. Stone is left to her own wits and training to get herself safely back to Earth.
There isn’t a great deal of character development with this film other than a little back story on Dr. Stone’s character. One gets the impression that Stone is a rather helpless character before she is left on her own by Kowalski, but it is an illusion due to the fact that she really has no control over her fate when she found herself free-floating in space. After being left alone, she demonstrates that she has the ability to think her way out of a seemingly impossible situation, but only by chance because everything she needed to survive was conveniently (actually to conveniently) at hand. Kowalski’s character was that of a typical fighter jock with a devil-may-care attitude toward everything, but also one who could get down to business when the situation calls for a cool head.
As in real life, no story is without its flaws and this one has a few that I would like to point out. While the physics are mostly accurate in their portrayal, there are a few points that may bother the more knowledgeable audience member. For instance, I know that if one puts water on their skin in orbit, that water will cling to the skin unless it is acted on by another force. In one scene, Dr. Stone cries and her tears leap off of her cheek to float around the cabin. While this is an inaccuracy, I think it was an intentional one for the sake of the drama taking place.
The biggest problem though, (and again, this would only be a problem for those who insist on total accuracy in films) is that the story shows the orbits of the ISS, the Hubble, and the communications satellites all share the same orbital plane above the planet. In actuality, the orbits of these objects are all quite different from one another. The ISS orbits at around 235 miles above the Earth while the Hubble orbit is a bit higher at around 350 miles. Communications satellites have a much higher geosynchronous orbit of 22,500 miles above the planet’s surface. While it might be conceivable that the debris field would spread out in dimensions and could cover over a hundred miles, it would seem virtually impossible for communications satellites would be affected. I think that the writers and director of the story need to be given some latitude though; after all, it is a fictional story and not a documentary. While these facts did cross my mind while I watched the story play out, the knowledge of them didn’t get in the way of my enjoying the movie.
There was one inaccuracy that falls under the category of eye-candy that is worth mentioning. At one point, after entering the ISS, Dr. Stone no longer needs her cumbersome EVA suit and chooses to remove it revealing that she is wearing a pair of short-shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. In actuality, astronauts wear long-johns that have a network of tubing that circulates water to warm or cool the astronaut, and there is also a number of sensors to monitor an astronaut’s vital signs while on EVA. So I can only conclude that this scene was meant to add to the bling factor of the film. Whether this is good or bad is up to you, but there it is.
I do have one warning for those that have a problem with vertigo; objects in this film are constantly spinning and moving at rapid paces and may prove problematic when viewed on a big screen format; especially in a 3D or IMAX situation.
The story is good, the direction is good, and the visuals are stunning. I very much enjoyed this film and give it my highest recommendations. One doesn’t necessarily need to like science fiction to get into this story. There are no super-human feats of heroism, no gadgetry other than what one would expect from a space story based on reality, and no epic battles, so those who are turned off by the action type sci-fi films need not avoid this one. I actually have a tough time calling this science fiction per se; I would have to tag it more like a dramatic depiction of a survival story set in a realistic backdrop of space. This film should appeal to a wide range of viewers.
Well, there it is…