Movie Review: 'Gravity' (2013)

Movies that center on one or two protagonists is a difficult premise to tackle and whether you’re stuck in outer space for an hour and half, the ocean (“Open Water”), on a ski-lift (“Frozen”), in a cave (“127 Hours”), or in a freezer (“Freezer”), there are key ingredients that have to come together to make the story work.

As claustrophobic as a single setting can be, the element that can create a sense of breathing room is getting caught up in a charismatic character and an exciting narrative. On both of these fronts, the critically and awards lauded “Gravity” fails.

The opening moments feature, the compelling George Clooney floating through space as he entertains with a few cute anecdotes. Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock’s hyperventilating heroine, Dr. Ryan Stone, is attempting to fix a problem on the spaceship.

Then a debris storm hits, knocking Stone (Bullock) for a loop and from this point on, trying to survive. It’s difficult to explain why everything from this point on is so terrible without giving away major plot details, not that there are many plot points to go over. 

Therein lies another issue, this is a simple story and with a run time of an hour and half, it should feel concise, rhythmic and filled with precision. Alternatively, it rambles and the solutions the script offers are not based on character ingenuity. A game of luck is the escape route for any insurmountable odd placed in Stone’s path.

Luck is tricky to utilize as the solution to any plot hurdle. However, used in small quantities it can be reasonable. In the case of “Gravity” it is evoked past credulity becoming tiresome, formulaic and Hollywood-predictable.

Bullock’s character is highly aggravating and poorly constructed, as she never develops any layers, or grows from her experiences. She is anxiety laden from the onset and remains that way throughout.

As female heroines go, the lacking-in-confidence and undetermined Stone is underwhelming, to put it mildly. For a character that is supposed to be a bio-medical engineer to be written with such a poor ability to rationally bring herself through her predicament is questionable.

Another issue plaguing this film is that one of its themes is surviving and re-emerging from hardship. There are no logical reasons given as to why Stone’s character wants to survive. Where the will to live plays so heavily into the human perception of survival, Stone is not equipped with any reasons to.

"Gravity" doesn't even explain why she should change course after her sound reasoning for feeling so resolute in her hopelessness, comes to light. A deus ex machina comes into play with a complete lack of realism to justify the third act and that is yet another aspect that strips away, whatever realistic fiber was left in the script.

The special effects are quite frankly, not that spellbinding either. The CGI fails to be immersive and after years of seeing similar effects approached and executed with greater success, it makes this film’s holes far more apparent. Also poking holes is the fact, similar topics and themes that this movie covers have been done before and better.

2009’s masterful “Moon” starring Sam Rockwell in a one-person show was a superb illustration of what can happen when the narrative and heart of the story are never compromised for special effects. It was a heartfelt drama that spoke to present-day truths that plague society.

It had a message and every minute of its hour and thirty-seven minutes was spent with brilliant pacing. It was easy to care for Rockwell’s astronaut because the screenwriter gave us reasons to.

For “Gravity” it seems the story was an afterthought, an excuse to conjure situations where the effects could be glorified. If the effects were that spectacular, it might’ve been somewhat understandable that it leaned so heavy-handedly, into that one aspect of the film’s components. They didn’t justify it though and when the story isn’t the heart of what is trying to be articulated, what can it possibly have to say, that lasts? Rating: 4/10