Movie review: Gravity

Poster by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Poster by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Well, this is a treat. It’s not often you see such quality hard science fiction on the big screen these days. Gravity is a film about two astronauts trying to survive after the Space Shuttle is destroyed by flying space junk. And I have to say, not only is the science 99% accurate, even down to a rare portrayal of no sound in space, but it is also really well done.

Now mind you, a lot of the stuff that happens in the film is highly improbable, from the Hubble Space Telescope being so close to the International Space Station to the speed with which the deadly debris field forms. Neither of those is impossible, but the satellites would have to be deliberately moved into those orbits. You can see a fairly comprehensive list of the errors at Bad Astronomy. I’ll only add that in the scene where George Clooney is hanging on at the end of the tether, he actually could be pulled away if the Space Station is spinning, even slowly, although that doesn’t explain why Sandra Bullock drifts back toward it.

Yes, the plot is a bit thin, but it works in this case. Just three and a half hours of in-movie time is compressed into one and a half hours of real time, so we can afford to stop and admire the detail. And we jump right in with a beautiful and terrifying opening sequence: 13 minutes without a single camera cut, beginning with picturesque views of the Space Shuttle against the backdrop of Earth, through the same being shot to pieces by debris, even into and out of Sandra Bullock’s rapidly spinning space helmet, and finally into the darkness of Earth’s shadow.

We see all of the interesting parts of the next three harrowing hours in almost real time, as we learn about the pasts of the two astronauts. We see the long, narrow corridors of the Space Station, the cramped Soyuz capsule, and more, all portrayed true to life. We also see some truly quality acting and storytelling, especially for a film where we only see two (living) characters’ faces from start to finish.

The small cast is, indeed, the film’s Achilles’ heel, since it’s hard to overcome the challenges of such restricted storytelling, but the fact that it was so well done in spite of this, and while stubbornly refusing to use any cutaways or flashbacks, is admirable in itself. As of work of art, it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. As a work of storytelling, it’s “only” pretty good.

And I will add, you need to see it in 3D. I usually avoid post-converted films like this one, preferring to spring for the 3D experience only for movies that are shot in 3D, like Avatar and The Hobbit, but Gravity is a lot of CGI anyway, and in a rare success, the 3D really does add something. In fact, I think the 3D helps Gravity more than any other film I’ve seen except maybe Avatar.

If you like hard sci-fi, if you like the real-life space flight experience, I cannot recommend this film highly enough, and it has a lot to offer the more casual fans as well.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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