Lost Between the Spaces:
Right from the very start I’ve had a love of cinematic space tales. By the end of the sixties my dad had taken me to several films—Westerns featured heavily—but 1969 was the first time I was allowed to go on my own. Well, with no parents anyway; my younger brother Donald was there, a quiet guy who was then and is now a nice bloke to catch a movie with.
The year puts my age at ten and the film was the science fiction drama Marooned. Just as the year before and a TV outing for James Whale’s 1931 classic Frankenstein gave me a life-long love of horror movies, so did Marooned introduce me to celluloid sci-fi. Sure, there had been TV series’ like Lost in Space, but this was the real deal. Made in the same year as the actual Moon landing, I recall it as quite ponderous, helped by the trust-me tones of Gregory Peck.
I don’t remember much more about it and I’ve never seen it since. I’m deliberately resisting the urge to Google it, so that I remember it the way that ten-year-old saw it. And what I remember most is one of the astronauts, with his cable to the spacecraft cut, drifting helplessly off into deep space. It was a shocking moment and stayed with me for weeks afterwards.
For some reason I remember the astronaut as being played by Gene Hackman. It was two years after he had appeared in Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde so it’s possible, I guess. But whoever it was, it was one hell of a disturbing image. Not even any of the astonishing visuals from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (which I didn’t see until years later) stayed with me like that.
I’ve been hearing about director Alfonso Cuaron’s film Gravity for weeks now; and listening to people rave about it made me think that I was in for a serious of images to multiply that hoary old relic by a hundred fold.
Technically and as an extraordinarily confident piece of film making, Gravity is so good that I really and truly wish that I could say I one hundred per cent enjoyed it; but sadly I can’t. I’m not interested in the argument of how it is so great in 3D or in an Imex centre. I hate 3D and I am looking at Gravity as a film experience, so I have to just ask: is this destined to be one of those films that everybody is ranting so much about that no one wants to admit that they didn’t get it either?
Well, perhaps not; because visually there is no taking from the fact that a lot of scenes are just jaw-dropping and definitely should be seen on as big a screen as possible. The opening shot alone is mesmerising. It appears to last as a continuous piece for all of ten minutes at least. It starts with an awesome view of the earth as we see a shuttle approaching in the background. As the shuttle gets closer and closer there is astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) going around it in circles, attempting to beat someone’s space walk record, whilst Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is doing some sort of maintenance work on the vessel’s exterior. As the scene progresses it really is one of those moments where you find yourself wondering how the hell it is being done.
This idyll in space comes to an abrupt end as those pesky Russkies unhelpfully decide to blow up one of their dilapidated satellites, starting a chain reaction of debris that destroys the American shuttle. Which was pretty bastardly of them as I thought that we were all supposed to be pals these days? How about a bit of warning next time, eh lads?
Gorgeous George and Sexy Sandra
So, yes, it’s a given: Gravity is visually wonderful; but nowhere is there anything that moved me the way that astronaut in Marooned did all those years ago.
I’m a big George Clooney fan, but Jesus what is he doing in this movie? He is an actor that is well able to stretch himself, but here he is in a role that gives him about twenty minutes of screen time. There’s nothing wrong with a strong cameo of course, but all that he gets to do here is be George Clooney in a space suit–which, as it happens, turns out to be pretty bloody annoying. Yep, he’s simply wise-cracking, look-at-my-lovely-peepers, irritating Gorgeous George.
Even more baffling is the inclusion of the great Ed Harris who only appears as a voice from Mission Control and has half-a-dozen lines.
No, apart from Cuaron’s direction and the beautiful—and often terrifying—special effects, this is Sandra Bullock’s movie all the way. She is never off-screen for the entire hour-and-a-half in a role that must have been desperately demanding, since the tension is kept ratcheted-up throughout.
I have to tell you, though; it didn’t particularly make me like her character any better. There’s the tiniest bit of back story that tells us that she has lost a four-year-old child; but even that didn’t help. And there is one moment when the sensitivity gets taken to the I-want-to-throw- up level, as Doc Stone wonders if it’s worth carrying on, whilst the music swells in faux-spiritual manner. And talking about the obvious straining for a spiritual theme that is going on, there is nothing to come close to that wonderful moment in The Right Stuff when the NASA craft is passing over a group of Australian aborigines.
And to be honest, this probably shows up how shallow I am, but as I watched Sandra Bullock bouncing around in zero gravity I couldn’t help but think of the Julie Roberts-in-space clips from Notting Hill. Still, it was certainly welcome when Sandra stripped off her space-suit to reveal a very tight pair of black sprayed-on’s and some sensational legs, quite rivalling any special effects.
I’m not going to nit-pick any further, though. In the final analysis, it is a welcome change to see Hollywood trying something with a bit of originality, even if they did forget to tack a story line on. What Gravity does capture very well is the sheer beauty of space as well as the cold, Lovecraftian indifference. And it is quite awesome to think of how cluttered it’s getting up there, as we contemplate an American shuttle, a Russian satellite and a Chinese station, all with this profoundly chilling emptiness between them.
Having said all that, though, give me this year’s real science fiction classic, Europa Report, any day of the week.