Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

"Gravity" Is A Transcendent Piece Of Crap

A couple of years ago, when a terrible break-up left me desperate to fill up all of my newfound free time with social interaction, I went over to a friend's house and watched him play Grand Theft Auto. After I saw him drive through a bunch of beautifully-designed streets, rob some girls with digits-in-all-the-right-places, and shoot a rocket launcher at a fleet of cop cars, I went home. I learned a valuable lesson that mind-numbing night: No matter how perfectly-orchestrated the sound, no matter how artistically-chiseled the graphics, no matter how hair-trigger the gameplay, watching someone else play a video game is boring.

That is exactly what watching Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity is like.

There's no story to follow, no characters to care about, and nothing of substance to learn about space travel seeing as it's basically one giant "artistic license" to get Sandra Bullock to walk around in her underwear for awhile. The whole movie-going experience—which costs me $18 bucks for IMAX 3D—is the same thing as going over to Alfonso's house and watching him play a version of Tomb Raider that somehow incorporates the icy game controls of NHL'94—but even more boring than that.

Here's the plot: Big Screen Actor flings around like a pinball, grabs ahold of another Big Screen Actor, almost runs out of air, gets knocked into something else, grabs ahold of something, performs some function that isn't made entirely clear to get home, almost runs out of air again, has something bad happen to him, pinballs again through space, runs out of air again, pinballs again, gets low on oxygen, and then flies back down to Earth. As my ladyfriend said exiting the theater, "it's Mr. Bean in Space."

In the last scene of the movie—which is kind of the whole thing in a nutshell—Sandra jettisons from her space escape pod into a lake. She swims out, but is weighed down by her heavy spacesuit. So, you know, she's about to run out of air again. To save herself, she quickly—and not dramatically at all—takes off her suit and swims to the surface. But then, instead of going straight up, she has to avoid the giant parachute from her escape pod falling onto her, so she takes a weird angle to almost make sure to get caught momentarily in a bunch of reeds. Adding to the suspense. “Will she ever get oxygen?!” Spoiler: She does, because this is a movie that doesn’t take any chances.

There are attempts to get us to care about the characters. George Clooney is given a few good lines as the Cowboy on His Last Mission before playing the hero to Sandra's sobbing Damsel in Distress. And Sandra, we learn briefly, likes "the silence of space" (despite it really never being silent during the entire time she’s up there) because her daughter died back home on Earth, which was a big bummer. But that's it as far as character development or general interest. You do not need infinite-monkeys-in-front-of-infinite typewriters to come up with these cookie-cutter characters. You need 12 donkeys with sticks tied around their tails. Put them in a sand pit, have a drink at the saloon, come back in an hour, and you'll have roughly the same quality of writing as Gravity.

Defying "Gravity"

Early on, we comprehend the infuriating inadequacy of Ryan Stone—which by the way is Sandra Bullock’s character, in case you assumed otherwise—in any and absolutely all space activities. If there is any way for Dr. Stone to sabotage the endeavor of staying alive, she WILL find it. Additionally, Matt Kowalski—the George Clooney character—WILL suffer the repercussions of her incompetence. And he will do it with a charming smile even though this was supposed to be his last flight as an astronaut before retiring. His sweetness and patience towards Ryan are almost as infuriating as his eventual self-sacrifice for her survival.

The film’s character issues stem from the horrendous dialogue, written by Alfonso and his son, which has a clichéd blandness that can be attributed to one of two things: (1) ESL issues, which probably isn’t the case after seeing displays of Cuarón’s impressive fluency in interviews; or, more likely, (2) trying to make everything as simple as possible for the global market. (This is a $100 million movie, after all.) So, instead of anything interesting or memorable—honestly, I've been spent the last 20 minutes trying to remember the film’s dialogue—you get revealing snippets like, "I'm going to die," and "Keep it together," and "I'm either going to survive or burn up during re-entry, so I guess 'dem's the breaks, kid!" No, folks, it's not easy to create dialogue for one actor to say to themselves, which Sandra does for most of the movie. It worked in Cast Away, but only because Tom Hanks was given that volleyball to talk to. Usually, it comes off as forced. And that's the case here.

And there are incredible moments in Gravity. This film represents a great achievement when it comes to IMAX 3-D technology and digital projection. It looks amazing. In one scene, an astronaut is completely wiped out by a bunch of space debris, to the point where you see Earth poking through the big hole in his face. Sandra Bullock's tears float into the camera. You start looking at her from outside of her helmet, but then the camera goes inside of her helmet to shows her oxygen displays, and then go back out to see her worried face. Throughout much of it, I was sitting there asking myself how the fuck did they do that?

Then I remembered. Oh yeah, computers.

It's computers, people. They use computers to do all of this. Computers. For moments in films made before CGI like the opening scene of Touch of Evil or the big killer reveal at the end of Young and Innocent, it was fun to ask "how'd they do that?" And answers like "They had to make sure to physically rack focus while moving in from so far to so close," or "the stunt man was using a flame-suit" were kind of interesting. But nowadays the answer is "they had a bunch of green-screen and some lonely neckbeard guys sat in front of computers for a while until they pushed the right button to make it look good."

Like Gravity, Alfonso 's Children of Men had nifty visual tricks going on that amazed you by how long they shot seamless scenes without cutting. The difference, however, was that there was a whole lot more going on in Children of Men in regards to little things like plot and substance than in Gravity. When people died, or when Clive Owen was put in peril, it mattered. The extended shots were cool and learning about how they were done was a nice bonus, but it all worked to serve the story. Gravity is the other way around. The story, or lack there-of, serves the shots. If you're not seeing Gravity in IMAX or in 3D, you're basically watching a high school TV production final assignment that your precocious neighbor shot for $20 in a week.

What puzzles me about Gravity is the fact that no one else can see how worthless it is. The movie is 97 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic gave it a 96 percent positive rating, and IMDB has it at 8.7 out of 10, which ranks it as the 44th best movie of all time. People are actually asking if it's the best space movie ever.

Hey everybody, let’s calm down here. It's not.

Aliens is the best space movie of all time. 2001 is also an acceptable answer. Event Horizon is scarier, Apollo 13 is more suspenseful, hell, Mission to Mars has more fleshed-out characters. Gravity? This is a middle-aged man being given $100 million to throw together a Sandra Bullock vs. CO2 video game and then force us to sit there and shut up and watch him play.

Rick Paulas did not like that movie.

30 Comments / Post A Comment

davidwatts (#72)

Gravity is so obviously and blatantly emotionally effective and affective that I hate it. Okay, sure!

20484892@twitter (#250,236)

The author should see the movie again to clear up some issues he seems to be having: that it is never "silent during the entire time she's up there" is false, another viewing should clear that up for you; that it is "basically one giant 'artistic license' to get Sandra Bullock to walk around in her underwear for awhile," is also a misrepresentation–see the flick again and judge screen time by space suit vs. not, i think you'll find overwhelmingly she is pretty covered up; i could go on but that's enough to be getting on with! Just see the movie again, sir, there is actually a great deal of substance and subtleties to the film. Though, of course it is hard to follow Children of Men's critique of late capitalism, this was overall a treat amongst the studio system.

deepomega (#1,720)

You are utterly, incredibly incorrect about "computers" and how movies are made. "Push a button" indeed. One may as well respond to the question of how they made visual effect pre-1980: "Cameras."

Mr. B (#10,093)

Ooooh! My favorite time of year is when people fight about movies in The Awl's comments section.

To wit:

Aliens is the best space movie of all time.

What the fuck is the matter with you, bro?

@Mr. B "Aliens is the best space movie of all time"
That was my favorite part of this review. Although I assume he meant "Alien."

Mr. B (#10,093)

That would have made SO much difference.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Also, considering Sandra Bullock is 49 years old (I looked it up!) she looks pretty amazing in her underwear.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Mr. B Nah, that was all computers.

Bumper Monkey (#250,764)

@Mr. B I agree. Her buttocks are an inspiration.

But she is supposed to be an astronaut.
In space.
Fighting for her life.
She is wearing a tank top and booty shorts so far up her behind I believe the movie may qualify for proctology and gynecologic training hours for the amount of time the camera forced me to stare at it.

Sean Lai (#14,158)

This is the better of the two Slate-pitch Gravity reviews on the Awl.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Are … comments not allowed on this? Because it seems like the kind of post that's BEGGING for them.

LondonLee (#922)

You lost me at the end when you said something positive about Event Horizon.

Story #2 (#245,715)

That is sort of a pity, because Children of Men was so affecting and I wanted Cuaron's other stuff to be good. It is also sort of not surprising, given that I thought Y Tu Mama Tambien was sort of vapid. And it is also sort of good, because I never go to the movies anymore and now I won't have to feel like I'm doing myself a disservice by not going.

mike crikey (#250,280)

The unnecessary hyperbole undermines your review. Different people watch movies with different expectations and for different reasons but it seems that to you, movies are all about the screenwriting and character development. Film-making comprises many elements including the visual arts, music and literature but you seem to have singled-out the screenwriting aspect of "Gravity" for the reason on "how worthless it is". The genius of "Gravity" is in its mise-en-scene- the choreography, the editing and the soundtrack. The main character of "Gravity" is space and it has been well developed by Cuaron's filmmaking. Yes, most of it is CG, but it takes supreme confidence behind the camera to execute long takes with rotating cameras involving alternating perspectives. That is why "Gravity" is so exciting to filmmakers and viewers alike because of the innovations to the cinematic language and to the filmmaking process itself.

Any paperback would have better character development than most movies. "Citizen Kane" wasn't lauded for its screenwriting. Orson Welles understood that what wasn't said on camera was fulfilled by the camera itself. Sure, "Gravity" has its flaws (e.g. artistic license vis-a-vis science and as you have rightly pointed out, the dialogue) but "high school TV production final assignment" it is not.

mike crikey (#250,280)

"they had a bunch of green-screen and some lonely neckbeard guys sat in front of computers for a while until they pushed the right button to make it look good."

Sure. I'm as much of a fan of practical effects as you but you have done the entire CGI industry a disservice with that statement. The overworked and underpaid CGI artists have worked hard to create a world which we can vicariously experience on our couches. Try your hand at CGI- anything from 3D modelling to lighting- and you will understand why CGI is art in its own right.

28864377@twitter (#250,286)

Congratulations! You found the right combination of words to make sure you get those all important page views.

I'm not saying you are wrong because an opinion can't be wrong but I am saying I question your motives and sincerity.

you're stupid, rick paulas.

"computers". just because you don't understand how CGI is made, doesn't mean its a nerd guessing which button to press. in fact, if you had an acquiring mind, you would LOOK into "how the fuck did they do that".
illiterate idiot.

298748323@twitter (#250,471)

I'm also bugged by this guy saying those effects were made by computers. A lot of extremely talented animators and special effects people deserve some love and respect for making that movie beautiful. As Don Hertzfeldt said, there is no "make art" button on the computer.

Rw (#1,458)

I was fearing this movie for a different set of reasons, I just don't know if I can sit through 90 min of Bullock's cry-face. Now I think I'll see it because I'm not sure I can trust you after putting '2001' AFTER 'AlienS'. *WARNING Dork sh@t to follow* Alien would have been acceptable but, to me, Aliens is just gun porn with "Bugs" as bad guys… mostly. Gun porn that I deeply love but to me it's just a really good action movie with very impressive, futuristic killing toys. I wish that Face could have just made 'Starship Troopers' (but really I don't because I like the version we got) Still have the feeling I'm going to agree with you 100% though hahaha I just came out of the dork closet big time, Hello everyone!

I agree. Proud to be in the 3%.

Bumper Monkey (#250,764)

Bless you for this review. I am STUNNED by the ratings for a movie that stole 60 minutes of my life (I spent the rest of it laughing so hard it was worth it). Yes. Visually it was a "feast" but so is the series Planet Earth and that is real. I am no snob. I loved Sandra Bullock from her "While You Were Sleeping" days. I was a little put off by all the grunting and heavy breathing in the Gravity previews. I kept thinking "she doesn't sound like a trained astronaut." You don't hear George Clooney panting and panicking but I chastised myself for being such a fun sucker and went to go see the movie. The worst movie I have ever seen is "Tarzan the Apeman" with Bo Derek. I remember her sitting on a beach (posed with the waves splashing around her) musing "I'm not sure whether to laugh (dramatic pause) or cry . . ." I sat there open-mouthed knowing that was a turning point in my life. I knew I was listening to some of the worst movie dialogue ever written. And now there is Gravity.

I actually shouted at the screen for her to BREATHE NORMALLY!!! SB's character was a moron who got everyone else killed. Everything she did was WRONG! She didn't deserve to survive. And the long weepy monologues about her daughter were groan-inducing. Oh and then there is the complete break from actual science to top it all off. HORRIBLE movie.

ARD (#257,163)

THANK YOU so much, Rick, for writing this review! The donkey analogy is pure gold. I've been at a loss trying to understand the hype surrounding this movie. Granted, visually, the thing is impressive. In all other regards, though, Gravity will go down as one of the most unsatisfying movie-going experiences I've ever had. And I've tried to warn my friends against watching it….maybe if they read your review, they'll think twice.

Gary (#258,563)

This movie blows from a scientific and story telling perspective. I didn't see it in 3D, so I guess I missed the fun.

wtdorosh (#260,270)

Couldn't agree more. Gravity is one of the worst movies that i have seen recently. Everything is predictable and boring. If you wanna watch Sandra Bullock breathe/cry for 2 hours this is your movie. What a joke.

Just got back from seeing it and this is the most accurate review on the net.
Other than the great special effects, a piece of crap
re Aliens
i agree re Aliens. Whilst Alien was definitely the daddy, Aliens is better on a like for like repeat viewing.

So, I'm not crazy after all. "It's computers, people.". I tried to articulate this one dimensional movie to others and everyone else had already had a glass of the Hollywood Koolaid. Thanks, I feel so much better now!

Gary Simco@facebook (#262,467)

It's funny when the media anoints a film as spectacular and the lemmings follow them right off the end.

Sandra Bullock – Astronaut – Space movie – Believable ?

She was more believable and hotter in Demolition Man . . . . LOL

amazinglyso (#248,672)

I have to agree entirely with Rick. It was a pointless theatrical demonstration of just how Hollywood A-litters can get away with making mega-bucks just for making a screen appearance in the movies!. I watched the spectacularly special-effect Gravity with such excited anticipation, only to feel myself drifting through the invincible pixels of sizable space tourism – what went wrong?. As Rick points out: 'one giant artistic licence' to get to see a nude alter-ego of the stars, some of us are well aware of just how ill-talented many of these multi-millionaires truly are – emotions are not difficult to mimic after all. It was a disappointing disaster and would like a refund on this shoddy showbiz film, yet have since lost the receipt.

Paul Russo@facebook (#272,306)

Never mind 2013, Gravity was one of the worst movies EVER. Honestly horrible acting, slower than snail sex pace, less exciting than watching beards grow, absolute zero chemistry, no plot to speak of (other than "ok lets get to the next space station!"), an unoriginal message (if there even was one), pandering to 3D CGI, and horrendous, horrendous dialogue. Oh and Bullock's character was a complete idiot who got everyone killed. The ONLY thing that was even REMOTELY interesting was trying to guess how they did the zero/low gravity scenes. Every single person listed in the credits for this movie should publicly apologize profusely, refund all ticket money in triplicate (to also compensate for time lost), and then immediately dine on cyanide pills. ;)

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