A “HARD SCIENCE FICTION” MOVIE
MisterScienceAintSoBad saw the movie Gravity.
It was magic.
George Cloony and Sandra Bullock give us a view of space that should be impossible from a chair on this planet. Almost too vivid to bear. Nobody can figure out how it was done. I looked at 28 movie reviews. Not a negative thing to say. The reviewers loved it. So did I. If I weren’t already so jaded , I would have fainted. Great, great work.
And yet, the film had no soul.
And the physics is wrong.
Here’s the thing.
The idea was to show off how breathtaking and amazing and very dangerous it is up there. As I say, the movie makers know their business. But the life story of Doctor Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) didn’t seem to interest the filmmakers as much as her emotional range when near death. The little we know about her life is because she tends to talk to herself when under pressure. The movie doesn’t show us Stone as she matures, as she falls in love, as she has a child, as she loses the child through a stupid playground accident, or anything else. In fact we see such a small wedge of her actual life that she got away with a space suit and some underwear as her wardrobe for the whole film. We’re only interested in having her hop scotch through space from one hazard to the next, dodging , weaving, improvising, whimpering, screaming, and emoting until, ultimately, the movie runs out of pixels.
Astronauts are portrayed as a little more colorful and less serious (and a little less professional) than they actually are. And although the introductory stuff reminds us that there are no sounds in space, being consistent about it would have wasted an entire wall of theater woofers. Movie license, right? Every time something moved in that movie frame, my seat vibrated. Boom, boom, boom!.
That’s okay. Sci fi wouldn’t be sci fi without a little juice for a teenager.
My problem was the premise. The basic idea is that the Russians accidentally fired a missile into their own satellite which exploded, leaving debris to ping pong off of other satellites until there was a “chain reaction” of debris that battered every space platform up there. You can see the debris “bullets” raining through the dark sky in several of the escape-from-death scenes.
The volume of space is enormous – even the small piece of it surrounding our tiny planet. Space debris is always a concern when you’re out there, but there’s much too much space and much too little aluminum to “fill the air” with projectiles. No serious scientist has ever raised the possibility of a chain reaction of debris. It was just a convenient plot invention.
The key scene – the one with Kowalski (Clooney)and Dr. Stone (Bullock) trying to save themselves at the Russian space station, was gripping. In trying to implement a sketchy scheme to get themselves safely back to earth, they find their way, traveling in unprotected space suits, to the Russian space station. On their arrival, they try to grab a handhold – anything at all – as they tumble past. The gloves really weren’t meant for one handed grabs like that. If Dr. Stone’s boot hadn’t gotten tangled in some straps, they would have been lost.
But her boots did get tangled. And as the straps slow her motion, she manages to grab Kowalski and the two buckle together. As the straps stretch more and more under the strain, Kowalksi realizes that the straps won’t hold their combined weight. He tells her that she has to let him go. She begs him not to open his latch, but he bravely reminds her that it isn’t her choice, unbuckles, and glides heart-breakingly out of the reach of her outstretched arms.
Okay. But what was pulling them outward? What force was dragging them away from the space station? They were moving because – what’s that thing? – objects in motion tend to stay in motion unless they are subject to an external force? So their momentum was moving them. Until that strap imposed a new force. Then they snap back toward the space station, right?
Only it didn’t happen that way. Some force kept dragging them outward. And dragging Kowalski away from Dr. Stone.
Before you say it, they weren’t being flung out by some rotational force. The star field wasn’t rotating.
What was the mysterious force that doomed Kowalski? I’m pretty sure it was merely slow motion cinematography making something out of nothing. By slowing the action enough, it is possible to experience what happens as the force from the straps start to tug backward and Kowalski’s mass tries to continue forward as a simulation (more or less) of a tractor beam dragging him into the ether.
The physics in the scene didn’t exactly make sense but, look, Dr. Stone had to come home alone and Kowalski had to go. From a scientific standpoint, I think Kowalksi died in vain. And, although I’m glad that Sandra Bullock survived as I would miss her very much, she spent the rest of the movie in a really, really, really peculiar war with the theory of probability, overcoming enormous odds time after time after time, eventually saving herself by propelling herself to the Chinese space station with a fire extinguisher. When, after way too many improbable brushes with death, she, eventually, lands a few feet from a welcoming beach in temperatures comfortable enough to collapse with relief in her adorable but nonstandard NASA underwear, I knew for a fact that some people have all the luck.
In the end, Gravity is a smash ’em up special effects film that doesn’t mind its silly side.
Reviewers didn’t mind and audiences won’t either.
Some movies don’t need a great plot.
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The drawing is mine.