“What is exhilarating in bad taste is the aristocratic pleasure of giving offense.” ~ Charles Baudelaire.
Alfonso Cuaron’s CGI space drama “Gravity” is nothing if not abundantly well liked, heaped upon with gushing adoration despite a myriad of insufferable shortcomings. Shaped by the vacuous possibilities of manufactured tones and rendered landscapes, driven by the spatial consequences of effects-driven storytelling, the film has bamboozled audiences and critics into accepting the fleeting superficiality of style over substance.
Perhaps when all is said and done you do have to experience “Gravity” for yourself – though the same could be said of most films – Uwe Boll’s films notwithstanding. If you’re interested in broad stroke characters and action sequences propelled by nauseating aesthetics, veteran actors at a loss for subtlety and millions of dollars of computer makeup, then this film might prove at least a passing fancy. Personally the film meanders on kitschy “look at me-ness” and I can no more recommend “Gravity” than other concept films gone astray – films that I’ve reviewed like “Contagion“, “Tree Of Life” and “Inception” which all forget the most basic principles of cinematic storytelling – namely that story, character development and a truthful proximity to genuine emotional resonance is not what you see but what you feel. If you’ve already seen it then most likely you’ve already begun to forget just what it was that you found so enjoyable. At a modest 91 minute run time we can at least thank someone for ending the ride sooner than later – though in all practicality situational conflict is the one constant that once removed or diminished renders plot and everything shackled to it to a predictable and moot conclusion.
Heralded as a masterpiece of visual acuity, so stunning the perspective and plotting of our universal fears of the cold, quiet of space, the death-defying theatrics of astronauts struggling to get back home after a catastrophe primes “Gravity” for success yet ultimately hamstrings it as purely airy; an overworked assemblage of neat sequences better suited to a 10 minute music video. However charmed the viewer with the opulent excessiveness of another Hollywood filmmaker running on prior successes (See my review of Cuaron’s vastly superior “Children Of Men”), the production of such disposable entertainment fills a niche even as it hearkens the old adage “Here today, gone tomorrow.” Such are the inherent dangers of any 91 minute idea strung together by death and destruction in space or otherwise where the unavoidable distance imposed by bulky space suits and intercoms deadens the thrills and rewards. At some point early on we simply cannot connect in an emotionally truthful way to these cardboard caricatures and matchstick back stories. Coupled with the inaccessible flailing scenarios of disintegrated space ships and asteroids that kill by nicks and piercing, “Gravity” looks good while straining to convey millimeters at a time of truthfulness under the most improbable of imaginary circumstances.
If “Gravity” will be praised down the road it will be for highlighting the magnanimous potential for special effects to puff up IMAX sales and fill more boardrooms with superfluous pitches for movies that won’t stand the test of time. There is no denying the technological splendor of the film, nor the mastery involved in action sequences and overall accomplishment in editing. Blah blah blah. But what about every single thing else? So entertain us with some solitary aspect of the rich techniques of the movie making process and we just roll over and lap it up? Don’t believe the hype or the glowing reviews and award show gold because the praise and adulation for “Gravity” is a one trick pony on a cheap greeting card heading for our landfills as the forgettable pastures of the next good-looking film – sans substance – gears up for the metroplex.
Much like the stuffed shirt effect after a rich, carbohydrate laden meal, “Gravity” is lost almost immediately upon the exhalation of a good belch. The story is, after all, as ludicrous as it is anti-cinematic, riddled with choppy dialogue that drifts nearly as much as the detached emotional undertone that reduces the characters to puffy disinterest and glaring artifice. We are talking about a genre film of epic construction, three years in the making, but all the hanging green screens and the laborious post production whiz-bammery cannot for the effort make the $10 popcorn work the price of admission. Take a step back and consider “Gravity” a perfect frame for aging actors with a hard time hitting their marks and emoting on queue – the same for a director who leaves us with a resounding sense of disappointment.
“The brave, impetuous heart yields everywhere to the subtle, contriving head.” ~Sage writer, British poet & cultural critic Mathew Arnold.
The conveyor belt quantities of action and limitless fascination with spaceness machined by Cuaron and his lensesmith Emmanuel Lubezki for “Gravity” instills in the viewer an unshakable uneasy for all the wrong reasons. “Gravity” is not a roller coaster ride and therefore will not improve with repeat experiences. Even after a single screening one is filled with the dread that comes on strong and inevitably falls hard between bouts of nonsensical banter and the deafening silence of acting. Despite the overwhelming positivism, both in reviews and ratings and award show gold, “Gravity” suffers from the same nausea ad infinitum that often relegates it to little more than a snappily dressed carny barker inviting the wanderer to navigate the tent poles of what will become a scattered visit to theater of the absurd.