Monday, October 07, 2013

I don't want to go into space anymore.

...Okay, really, I still do.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure to watch Gravity.  I found myself on the edge of my seat for most of the movie as it was so intense.  It was visually stimulating and a real emotional driver, especially at the end of it. Even if it does seem like another simple survival story punctured with factual errors, I join the ever growing chorus of netizens  and recommend you see this movie.


There are essentially two characters in this movie: astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney).  Disaster strikes when their space shuttle is destroyed, contact with Houston is cut off, and they must find a way to get back home.

It's a very intense movie. Within the first few minutes we see the shuttle destroyed. Ryan is flung off into space. (If it was me, I'd have already lost all hope and resigned myself to death.) You might have wondered if we were about to watch 80 more minutes of her tumbling out into space.  No, but you will see her face the grim situation as she locates her dead crew members. This movie doesn't let you catch your breath for long for the mission to get home by any means possible starts right up.With the shuttle destroyed, an attempt is made to get to the International Space Station.  That's a scary proposition in any event, much less with a jet pack and another person in tow.  The two astronauts do make it to the ISS but their momentum is so fast that they can't manage to grab and latch onto the station. The two are just about to have blown their chance when Stone's foot gets tangled in some lines.  Kowalski is at the other end of their tether and decides to sacrifice himself to prevent Stone's tenuous connection to the ISS from breaking and dooming them both.  Without Kowalski, Stone is now on her own to try an make it back to Earth.  Unfortunately the ISS's Soyuz capsule can't get her to Earth but it could get her to the Chinese station, Tiangong, and its Shenzhou capsule.  So the rest of the movie is seeing her taking on this seemingly insurmountable challenge for if she can get into that Shenzhou capsule, she'll be able to get down to Earth.

Visually speaking, the movie is spectacular. I purposefully sat up closer in the theater than I do usually because I knew shots of Earth were going to be jaw dropping. It wasn't just that but the long interior shots of the space stations and capsules give you perspective that still photography just doesn't. So when you go see it, see it up close and in 3D. 

What I liked about this movie was that it touches you on a most basic emotional level.  It reminded me a lot of Alfonso Cuarón's previous work, Children of Men. Ryan's child died and as a result she has also died in a sense. She is a shell of a woman performing her duties and letting the rest of the world go by.  As she tries to survive though, we see her come back to life. Death is absolute and scary but Kowalksi embraced it for the small chance of saving the life of another. I think that his act, and Stone's final appreciation for life generally as well as her own, should all make us want to enjoy and make the most of our own for however long that may be. The best part of the movie is where she has made a decision that will lead to one of two things: survival or death.  Whichever consequence she encounters she is at peace and as an audience member, I was actually at peace as well. In that moment, she did the best she could and no matter what happened, you can respect and be inspired by what she had done.

Initially, I wasn't interested in seeing this as I thought would be another survival tale and that there wasn't possibly enough plot to keep me interested. Word of mouth, though, was strongly positive and I thought I'd give it go. I am definitely glad I did.  

When it comes to sci-fi, I always like to nit-pick and this movie did not escape notice.  First I was annoyed by the fact that they were in a shuttle (which have been retired) working on the Hubble telescope which is nearing the end of its service life.  Also, there was the suggestion that Hubble orbits at the same altitude of the ISS or that communications satellites were even lower orbits when in actuality it is the ISS in lower orbit with Hubble in a higher orbit, and communications satellites in a even higher orbit.  I think I scoffed too loudly when I heard that Stone was a medical doctor and that she was up there with only 6 months of training.  When the debris hit, I knew it was wrong for it to becoming in like stampede.  Later on when Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted about the actually science inaccuracies I learned a few additional ones like the direction of the debris was coming at the wrong direction during the ISS scene.  But hell, I was more stoked that I had the same observations as Tyson.  I feel more intelligent as a result.

Anyways this has been long enough.  Go see Gravity.

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