"I hate space!"
Gravity is a spectacular, awe-inspiring and thrilling film which retrospectively really ticks me off.
It never ceases to astonish me how good special effects are right now. We're spoilt! Ron "Apollo 13" Howard would have killed for this technology. I saw Gravity on a screen which claimed to be IMAX (but realistically, probably wasn't quite there), and what I saw was crystal clear and so lush as to be almost edible. We are finally, finally in an era in which 2001: A Space Odyssey - the high water mark of space technology FX for what, four decades? - has been definitively surpassed. We have perfect clarity of picture in an environment entirely without atmospheric effects. More importantly, we're finally in an era which can do that environment justice. It really looks like that!
We have impressively accurate reproduction of real-world space hardware from the Space Shuttle (called Explorer in the film, but for some reason still referred to as Atlantis on the soundtrack?) to individual one-of-a-kind wirecutters. And laudably accurate and effective use of sound, and that booming bass score by Steven Price, clearly taking cues from Jaws. In case the rest of this thing persuades you otherwise, I think this is a film you should see. It is a spectacle. It is one of the films which justify the existence of cinemas.
And, if you're meaning to, you should probably watch it before reading the rest of this.
I disagree very strongly with the message of Gravity.
"Space is terrible," says the film. "Do not go there. You're only a real human being if you're on the ground." Space is a place where the protagonist undergoes a profound transformation - and this is arguably one of the more technically accurate aspects of the film, as this is a real, observed phenomenon in space travellers, going back as far as Yuri Gagarin. But the transformation doesn't mean anything until the lady is walking on solid ground again. In fact it barely takes hold until she's well on her way home! Sandra Bullock's character is too much of a figurative baby to understand how amazing it is, and how privileged she is, to be working in space. She blows up, by my estimation, some two hundred billion dollars' worth of space hardware in the process of trying to get back into her comfort zone.
"If you do go there," says the film, "get what you need and come back as soon as possible." The scientific justifications for space exploration receive no acknowledgement in dialogue, even though the Hubble's right there in shot. "Half of North America just lost their Facebook," says a character, as if that's the greatest loss that would arise from a real Kessler outbreak.
Gravity has strong spiritual themes, including an event whose most embarrassingly unscientific interpretation would be a visit from the afterlife. Are astronauts spiritual? I have no doubt of this. Is space an environment where survival has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with rigid adherence to procedure and respect for cold, implacable equations? Yes. Is this a film where the character who does everything absolutely by the book dies for it, and the spunky rookie relying on inner strength lives? Yes.
(And another thing. What's the point of having incredibly long single continuous shots be your directorial trademark, and then making a space film which doesn't have a long real-time continuous shot stretching from orbit all the way through re-entry to climbing out of the capsule at ground level? I mean, what the hell?)
The film opens with some fixed text explaining how hostile space is. The final line of this text is "LIFE IN SPACE IS IMPOSSIBLE". Meanwhile, the ISS has been continuously inhabited for more than fifteen years. Cuarón even blows it up, just to make sure it doesn't contradict his point.
Gravity is disrespectful to the accomplishments of space explorers. It reduces space travel to a purely selfish emotional journey. Astronauts have important and dangerous work to do up there, and the emotionally immature are not admitted.