“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.
Beautiful to just gaze at, but man, that script did need some real work done on it. That’s just my problem, though. Good review.
Indeed! Perhaps best with a cocktail or as background visual mood in a room full of people, something to distract those awkward conversations that don’t go anywhere. “OOoohh, look Sandy is tumbling in space again!” Thanks for the thoughts, see ya around 🙂
Wow, like the review, nice to see another viewpoint on the movie. I loved the movie, but I can understand the issues you have with the film. It is an action movie set in space….including the properties that come with the genre…. still I felt more for Bullock’s character than I do most action heros 🙂
Thanks Nostra – appreciate your thoughts, especially with our differing reaction. My challenge (always) is dealing with the typical shortcomings of genre films, mostly with character development and dialogue followed soon thereafter by nonsensical story elements that are either half baked or altogether burnt to a crisp – case in point here, Clooney’s entire presence in the film. Oh, and then while I appreciated it, admitting to a fondness for Bullock (at least in her earlier films), watching her get undressed ala a nod to Sigorney Weaver in Alien again and again for no other reason than to appease the 12 year old boys in the audience…it just added to all the things that kept me from an action movie set in space.
I would indeed benefit from letting such requirements aside and just sitting through the spectacle. But alas, I just want a cake that looks as good as it tastes.
NIce review, even if my opinion differs from yours. There is no doubting that the film has plenty of shortcomings, but unlike you, I didn’t find them insufferable. Visually, on the big screen in 3D, I was really swept up in the film. But I also think that so much (all?) of what was going for the film was wrapped up in the fact I saw it in 3D on the big screen, that I am not sure if I will bother to revisit the film on blu-ray.
Think that is a very good point. I saw it twice in the cinema because I knew it just wouldn’t be the same when seeing it at home. It just won’t have the same impact. Like you I haven’t watched the film at home but think I wouldn’t love it as much.
Yeah, I think that is the generally consensus, that on the big screen and in 3D and/or IMAX, the film was able to achieve an overall experience that more than thrilled audiences. I mean it does break new visual ground in many respects — both successfully and otherwise – see Dramamine above 🙂 —
Sooooooo….. you didn’t like it? Man, I don’t think we can be friends any more.
I kid, of course: it’s good to see an opposing position on this film, even if you are trying to read too much into the narrative than it ever really tried to portray. I didn’t expect a solid character drama, and I didn’t get one. I got a white-knuckle ride through space (and below!) and it captured my imagination more than a hundred Star Wars or Transformers movies.
Regardless, a well written review of a contradictory opinion should not invalidate everyone else’s, and this one doesn’t. Great stuff, Rory.
Hey Rod — Thanks for dropping by, and happy belated btw. Been meaning to drop in (that old story) but you know how it goes, living the life of a man of mystery and all. That being said, yeah I know I’m going out on a limb here with this review as Gravity pretty much swept the carpet as a likable escapist flick. And I take your point, about reading too much into the narrative – but that’s just me, I’m funny that way – I guess I’m just not willing to compromise what keeps me in the seat, namely a smart script, solid acting and more than a quick squeegee attempt at actual emotional resonance. I guess we’re just going to have to part ways. I kid too, of course. Thanks as always mate, best in your movie travails – cheers, rory
You totally missed the point! I think you say it best when you say you’re not into genre films because you tend to expect far more than the genre delivers. Stick to what you know – painful dramas and the occasionally incoherent independents. Best wishes of course.
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