Science Fiction - Wisely

(the rantings of a science fiction freak)

Last night I took a break and watched "Gravity", starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Wow. You might want to take a day off and grab the dvd, turn down the lights and spark up the big screen and check it out. And you'll definitely want to hold onto your hats because this movie will literally jerk you out of your seat and spin you around in multiple directions.

During the first hour of the film, found myself saying that the movie was misnamed -- since, in terms of the real concept of Gravity, the major duration is more a depiction of the LACK thereof. But I found that the ending nicely wrapped up the concept, and brought us back "down to earth" in several ways.

To this reviewer, Gravity carries forth (and gives a tip of the hat to) a number of concepts already treated in previous science fiction movies. However I felt that in terms of the sheer success of the technical exposition (special effects) Gravity developed these themes to a much grander scale, in most cases.

For example, let's take the 2000 release called "Mission to Mars". MTM has always been one of my favorite movies, even though there are some hokey (and even downright silly) parts in it (I wasn't a huge fan of the final scenario in which the "grey" type alien whisks Gary Sinise back to his home planet and a few other things). But what I did very much like about Mission to Mars was its semi-realistic approach to space physics, specifically the scene in which the four astronauts have to go EVA and abandon their damaged spacecraft upon Mars orbit entry, and rendezvous "on the fly" with an orbiting supply module. In MTM, the extravehicular astronauts use the final thrusts from a jetpack to line themselves up for a collision with the orbiter, "coming in hot", and while the main character is able to hook the others' tether onto the module, (warning spoilers) he himself misses the hookup and is carried off, out of reach, and in a very poignant scenario, decides to take his own life by decompressing in order to discourage his wife and fellow astronaut from following on a hopeless rescue attempt. That scene in MTM is striking and heart-wrenching and quite realistic, no matter how hokey other parts of the movie may be. Without offering too many spoilers, Gravity takes this concept and develops it to another level in a very deep plot twist that is very satisfyingly shocking and heartbreaking while displaying the utmost sense of physical and mechanical reality.

Also included in Gravity are a few nods to the archetype of all semi-realistic space movies - 2001: A Space Odyssey. Specifically there is a forced-airlock entry scene reminiscent of Dave Bowman's renegade re-entry into Discovery after being locked out by HAl 9000. And in general the realism and physical immediacy of the space stations and hardware in Gravity is at once reminiscent of and in many ways surpassing the high level of sophistication that was built into Kubrick's original masterpiece.

an image of 2001 2001 a space odyssey (Group)


2001's EVA scenes were remarkably realistic for their day and even in comparison with many of the films of today -- the majority of which (imho) seem more fixated on delivering good explosions rather than examining the real vagaries of science. In this writer's opinion, the pop culture of today is ignoring amazing things which might possibly intrigue us even more than just watching things "get blowed up". And while there are a number of fires and explosions in Gravity, the physics of momentum and Newton's laws are observed to great effect in this film. To be honest, I found myself completely tensed and holding onto my seat for almost the entire movie, owing to its sense of forced (or lost) equilibrium, counter movement, equal and opposite reactions - I felt completely and totally "owned" by the physics the movie attempted to demonstrate. "Nailed it".

If we step away from the physical side of the movie for a moment and focus instead on the emotional lives of the movie's characters, especially Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock's character), we see someone who lives in an emotional universe almost as cold, sparce and unforgiving (towards herself) as the deadly environment of space. Via plot devices in the movie, that landscape is irrevocably changed as well, allowing Bullock's character to be brought back "down to earth" spiritually at the same time as physically... to be honest, my "suspension of disbelief" was disturbed somewhat by the kind of non-sequitir of the radio call Dr. Stone has which turns her around emotionally. It's basically a random contact with someone on earth who she can't understand due to a language barrier. Lucky for me, I had purchased the DVD so I was able to watch the DVD short film included in the DVD which is the flip-side of that conversation with the person on Earth who happened to receive the radio transmission from the spacecraft from Dr. Stone. I won't give away the spoilers but after I saw that short film on the DVD I completely and totally embrace the plot turn in the actual movie - you'll have to see it to know what I mean and I won't give it away here.

After watching the entire movie and the short I came away feeling as if I had come closer than any other time in my life to knowing exactly what it would feel like to actually be in space. If you want to have that same feeling, pick up Gravity today and watch it tonight (I think the film works best in a dark environment).