Monday, September 23, 2013

Gravity (2013): Video Games as cinema

Gravity (2013)
dir: Alfonso Cuaron

Why would The Other Films review a movie that has an $80m budget, and stars both Sandra Bullock and George Clooney?  Well, this movie is science fiction (we have a certain love for that), and it is, weirdly, a big budget movie that is slated to be released in the no man's land of October.  Unfortunately, though not entirely unexpectedly, I hope this movie stays delegated to remaining outside the mainstream.  Because Gravity, while having a lot of style, panache, and technical achievement, is essentially an empty-headed video game of a movie.

In the '90s, there was a series of adventure games that were point and click adventure games that really were interactive movies, or interactive movies that really were adventure games.  Among these games are The 7th Guest and The 11th Hour, the Tex Murphy series, and the Phantasmagoria series.  Most notoriously was Tex Murphy: Overseer (the 5th in his series) where he retold the story of Mean Streets (the first in the series) and reformatted it as a pre-destined movie in which you had to solve a bunch of puzzles, but ultimately your character couldn't die nor have any conclusion outside of the foregone ending.  Sometimes you had to answer a series of action trees to get out of danger, and get to the conclusion.

Gravity feels like that. Worse, it feels like you're watching somebody else, namely Alfonso Cuaron, play that video game. The challenges are all pre-determined. You need to make sure you grab that fire extinguisher to try to battle the upcoming fire. Make sure you press that series of buttons. And, don't forget to release the chute.  You have a feeling that you're going to be watching these characters for the length of the movie. And, the tension starts to stagnate by the end.

What makes it more lifeless is that it is a bottle movie, with 1.5 characters.  At certain points in the film Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are separated, and Ms Bullock is left to carry a movie on her own, which she, thus far, has not been able to do.  Even in the highly overrated The Blind Side, Ms Bullock couldn't carry the movie.  Unfortunately for Ms Bullock, Mr Cuaron, and the audience, Sandy has to pretty much carry this movie all by herself.  To carry this movie, Ms Bullock utilized her usual array of high pitched hyperventilating and histrionics that I think she trademarked in Speed.

The story of Gravity is a bunch of space degree from the Russians shooting a satellite careens around the planet, and destroys everything it its path.  In its path are a bunch of satellites, including some station that people are getting data from, the ISS and some Chinese station.  Apparently, all of these are in geo-synchronous orbit, and all on the same linear path.  And, apparently, all of the space debris is only going in one direction along one path.  But, leaving those physics out of it, the space debris is The Ticking Clock.  You have to get out of its path before it comes back again, in 90 minutes (keep in mind that the 90 minutes in the film is not 90 minutes of the film).

Anyways, this Russian debris takes out the first satellite where George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are working.  And, Bullock goes careening off into space, hyperventilating on cue.  Clooney has to rescue her and they have to get to the ISS and then to the Chinese station in order to fly the escape pod down to earth.

That's the whole movie.  There are minor character details that could trigger something deeper.  An early conversation shows Bullock having lost her son, and the movie is empty enough that it could be about the stages of grief.  Or, the debris was caused by a rash action by the Russians, and wham its a political allegory.  But, ultimately, the movie is none of these.  It's a simplistic vacuous video game about trying to get from place to place and trying to rescue your avatar.

Is it well made?  Yes.  It has some really fine cinematography. There is a 13 minute opening shot that is spectacular.  The visuals are far more sumptuous and fulfilling than anything else in this bobblehead of a movie.  However, the score is god-awful and in your face, and very intrusive to the movie during the action scenes.  In the pre-film requisite literary reference card, the soundtrack starts quiet, and amps up to deafening volumes before it cuts out completely into silence.  This motif is repeated over and over and over and over.  It's more annoying than tense.  It's more self-aware than invisible.  You're aware this is a movie score, and will be heard!  And it will be silent!

Gravity is ultimately lacking that extra something that makes it worth seeing.  It's not deep, or interesting, or even all that new.  It isn't being released in the summer as a good movie for escaping from the oppressive heat into the coolness of space for some vacuous enjoyment.  It is an October release, and its very vacuous even for that. And, though the visuals are grandiose, the movie is ultimately a loss due to a terrible score and a dull as dishwater script.  Skip it.

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