Gravity, the new outer space movie written by Jonas and Alfonso Cuaron and directed by the latter, is a movie that is driven by plot and not characterizations (the film may be 3D, but the personas on screen are a mite less) and gets away with it (sort of like Star Wars, though I can understand if that might seem a stretch of a comparison). Three people are floating around in the void repairing a space station when some debris zooms by and kills one, strands two (don’t you just hate when that happens). They’re not particularly interesting people, per se, but they are still people, so it would be heartless not to care, no matter how slight in personality they may seem.
And when a plot is this focused and tight and when the circumstances are so dire and the solution to their problem so clearly stated (it requires the use of both a Russian and Chinese space station, possibly symbolic of the death of the Cold War, though the Chinese station ultimately saves the situation, possibly demonstrating where movie money is coming from these days—after all, this is a 3D IMAX movie and those are just about the only kinds of theaters they are building over there; or it could be mere coincidence), it would also be a bit cavalier, not to mention just plain impolite, to not sit on the edge of your seat, pulse raising, heart pounding, dying to know how it all turns out.
Gravity, if nothing else, is a thrill ride enriched by some of the most amazing CGI effects you’ll see in some time. Though there are many who have now leaped upon the bandwagon and pointed out all the unrealistic aspects of the film (and I also did wonder why the heroine’s hair didn’t float around in zero G, but assumed that poetic license was employed so it wouldn’t distract by looking like Cameron Diaz’s coiffure in There’s Something About Mary), at the same time, whether it is or not, Gravity feels like one of the most realistic fictional movies about space I’ve ever seen.
In fact, the real question might be: it’s riveting, but is it sci-fi? It’s not a commentary on modern times through the smoke screen of a fake future or anything like that. It’s a pretty straight forward thriller that seems incredibly factual. But then again, does it matter? Well, probably only to the producers who might be able to use the it’s-a-non-sci-fi/sci-fi movie in order to get it the Oscar for Best Pic this year.
But as was pointed out, it’s by no means a perfect movie. While one gladly sits through all the beautiful SFX while biting ones nails through all the near death climaxes, there is that dialog. Uninteresting, cutesy, forced, it doesn’t really add much to the situation, and it does at time fall on cringed ears (there’s also an odd reaction at one point when they are told that a missile destroyed a satellite and everyone treated it as if it were an everyday occurrence—I was freaking, a bit, myself).
At the same time, it’s no Harrison Ford, “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it” screenplay either. It gets the job done. And the stars, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both excellent and just the sort of people you would want to get stuck with in outer space if you were facing imminent death (Clooney can charm the panic out of a herd of rogue elephants), play against the banal talky talk by giving somewhat flat, down to earth (oh, the irony) line readings to it all.
Gravity isn’t about much. It tries to drum up some sort of character arc silliness of Bullock being symbolically reborn after having lost her child (yeah, I didn’t buy it either and it all sounded a bit too cheesy Save the Cat to take seriously), but in the end, it’s probably best to look at Gravity as one of those movies that doesn’t really do anything, but does it very, very well. And with Clooney’s blue eyes and Bullock in her short shorts to cap it off.
Meanwhile, back on terra firma, in the film The Dirties, Matt and Owen (played by Matthew Wilson and Owen Williams—get it, get it, they’re using their real names) are having their own life and death struggles. They are high school students who are being bullied, often ruthlessly so (the strongest scenes in the movie are the viciousness of the various attacks). The basic idea is that, for a class project, they make a film about getting revenge on the group that is harassing them (the title characters), but then one of them starts taking the idea a bit too seriously.
I wanted to like this film more than I did. I actually just wanted to like it, but it wasn’t until the second half that I felt something was going on that was intriguing and new. But since the first half is filled with Matt and Owen, two of the most obnoxious and annoying people one could hope to avoid, but can’t, since they are the stars of the movie, it was more than a bit of hard going. And the scenes about bullying are pretty much the same scenes you’ve seen about bullying since bullying began being dramatized. The movie offers little new and takes so long not to offer it, that it’s a real chore to get through these early sections.
The second half then takes a turn that brings new life to this sub-genre. Owen discovers that he might actually be able to get accepted into the popular group, mainly because he was once friends with one of the alpha-females who hangs out with the Dirties and who may still have some lingering feelings for him. At this point, Matt begins to freak out as he sees his delicate relationship with Owen being threatened (it even leads to an odd scene that basically blames Matt for all the bullying—Owen tells him that he’s such a freak, he invites what happens to him). And so Matt’s joking-but-not-really desire to take revenge on the bullies becomes a really-no-I-mean-really actuality. If this complication had happened thirty minutes early, then the movie might have been more interesting and involving.
The film was written by Johnson and Evan Morgan and directed by Johnson; it’s a first feature for both, I believe. Everybody tries hard and there’s a ton of energy here. And for a low budget film, it has a lot of solid production values.
But it also has more than it’s share of clichés. It’s filmed with that ultimate of recent movie and TV conceits—we see it all unfold through the eyes of a third party who films everything with a hand held camera. Like the first half of the film, this doesn’t bring anything new to the story and feels, well, just so unimaginative, somewhat of a letdown.
And it also raises more questions than it answers: not only is this person never identified (we only know whoever he or she is, they aren’t a student because Matt has to sneak him into the building at the climax), this person doesn’t try to stop Matt from his horrifying crime. And since this camera operator has so carefully filmed so many of the acts of bullying, has recorded events that any ambulance chaser would salivate over, it waters down the effectiveness of Matt’s actions—makes them seem less like something his character would do, rather than a neat way for the writer/director to end the story.