Have you ever been to a science or aeronautics museum where they were showing an IMAX film about the space program? (If you’re over a certain age, you might remember when that was the only place you could see an IMAX film, and they were all documentaries and only 40 minutes long.) Remember the giant panoramas of Earth from orbit, the spacewalks, the space shuttle, the sense of immensity?
The new film Gravity has all of that.
(This is one of the official posters for the film. For some gorgeous alternate posters, check out this roundup at the Huffington Post.)
Director Alfonso Cuarón (and his cinematographer and special effects team) have done a beautiful job of capturing the feeling of being in zero gravity in Earth orbit…or so I imagine, anyway. It’s especially effective if seen in 3D…and I’m not a big fan of 3D, so take note. There’s the sense of being — literally — ungrounded (though not too bad on the motion-sickness front, after a few minutes early on), the lack of reference points, the hugeness, the beauty of space. This is what 3D is for.
And oh yeah, the plot is good too.
An accident in orbit strands two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both believable in their roles). With their ride home out of commission, aid is scarce in the cold environment of space, and the physics of being in orbit are relentless. But their worst problem may be their own fear…
Or at least Sandra Bullock’s fear. She’s the rookie to Clooney’s old space jockey, which makes him the mentor figure and her the main character. Sadly, their emotional states — especially early on — are pretty stereotypical along gender lines (panicky woman, calming man). For a story that relies so heavily on two characters, it would’ve been nice to see some deeper, more complex emotional arcs.
But it’s still very refreshing to see a strong female main character in a hard science fiction story. More of that, please, Hollywood!
And hard science fiction it is. The problems they face have to do with (literal) inertia, orbital mechanics, orbital debris, mechanical breakdowns, and similar — kind of like Apollo 13, but with less jury-rigging and more physics. It’s almost a “(wo)man versus nature” story, if you remember your English high school lessons, but it also makes this astronomy lover geek out.
Possibly the coolest part: this hard-SF setting is almost contemporary. Cuarón has done a little fudging, so the story can’t be dated exactly, but the space shuttle is there, the Hubble Telescope, the International Space Station. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I remember being inspired by the space program (back when it was actually going somewhere…I may be slightly bitter about that). Seeing it dramatized is pretty damn awesome.
Your turn! Have you seen Gravity? What did you think?
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