Gravity Review

poster from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

Being lost and alone is something that almost everyone is afraid of, which is why horror movies about being lost in forests, houses, desert islands, oceans, and space ships have all done so well. As we saw with Open Water, however, it can be a challenge to make sure there’s enough for the lost people to do without resorting to convenience. If Gravity was going to have a problem, I imagined that would be it.

Two space astronauts find themselves struggling for survival in space after their shuttle is destroyed by orbital debris.

And while its true that Gravity does occasionally rely on luck (both good and bad) and it does play fast and loose with science, it doesn’t matter, because you’ll be too busy gnawing off your own fingers in agonized tension to get picky over details. Seriously, I’ve never been so wound up by a movie in my life.

Despite how obviously expensive Gravity looks, it’s really a very small movie. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is installing some new hardware on the Hubble Space Telescope. Mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is testing a new go pack and trying to beat the record for longest space walk, and astronaut Shariff (Paul Sharma) is… hanging around in the cargo bay. There are other voices on the radio occasionally, but these are the only three people in the movie. And (spoiler alert) one of them doesn’t last long.

Stone and Kowaksi work on the Hubble telescope from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

Did you know there was a third guy on our mission? Me either.

An accident with a Russian missile and a satellite creates a deadly cascading debris storm that prompts all of the manned space missions – the shuttle, the International Space Station, and a Chinese station called Tien Gong – to evacuate. The shuttle is too slow and the cloud rips through it like hot ninja stars through Jell-O. Though many space movies add in sound effects to make scenes like this more exciting, it’s the eerily accurate silence in Gravity that make it so horrifying.

Space shuttle Explorer is hit by debris from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

Hey Matt, I heard some weird underwatery BONGing sounds through my suit. What’s doing on?

Ryan ends up spinning off into the black on the end of the space arm. Matt has to find and retrieve her before her oxygen runs out, which is a problem because all the GPS satellites have been wiped out and it’s hard to tell someone where you are when the most specific you can get is: above Earth. The visuals are amazing (thanks to hefty amounts of CGI) and Sandra Bullock’s panic is palpable even just from listening to her breathing.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

Chill. You’re hogging all the bought air.

With the shuttle out of commission, Matt and Ryan need to get over to the International Space Station and use the emergency Soyuz capsule to get back to Earth. This will, of course, not be easy, as the cloud is coming back around again, Ryan’s air is still running out (though I don’t know why she didn’t grab a refill from the shuttle) and Matt’s only got a little bit of juice left in his go pack.

Kowalski tows Stone from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

Relax. AAA is here to tow you to the service station.

Because the shuttle and space stations are lined up and (relatively) accessible, there is far more for the characters to do in Gravity than there was in Open Water. They don’t just float around talking about how screwed they are. They’re in the middle of a deadly game where they have to leap-frog between solid objects, trying to a) line up with them correctly and b) avoid getting perforated by debris. The tension is unrelenting. Seriously, there are like two jokes in the whole movie.

Debris hits the International Space Station from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

You know what would be hilarious? If a tiny piece hit her suit
and she couldn’t bend over far enough to plug the hole.

In fact, if you’re thinking about going to see Gravity, I would recommend packing a paper bag and some valium, because this was me watching it: GRAB IT GRAB IT GRAB IT GRAB IT GRAB IT OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG (and flailing my arms like a panicky T-Rex).

Stone tries to grab onto the Chinese Space Station from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

I changed my mind. I am never going to space, ever.

So it’s hauntingly beautiful and eerily accurate looking. But is it really that realistic? No. In Gravity, story necessarily trumps science. There is no space shuttle Explorer, the Chinese don’t have a space station, re-entry angle is important, all the human-made space program objects aren’t lined up in a nice little row like that, and the Soyuz floats, just to name a few of the things I noticed.

Ryan Stone pilots Soyuz from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

It’s a good thing I don’t need more than 2 or 3 of these 5,000 buttons to land this thing.

Also, I haven’t cracked a physics book in a few years, but I do remember reading something about how all objects fall at the same speed. And if orbiting Earth is really just falling around it, how can it be that the debris cloud keeps catching up with them? But you know what? I DIDN’T CARE. In the moment, most of the science looked right enough not to be obviously wrong, and that’s all I needed to be carried away on a wave of tension and horror.

Stone and Kowalsi are caught on ISS from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Gravity

Remind me to write a thank you letter to whoever invented string.

The only people who are likely to be bothered enough that they won’t enjoy the movie are finicky science nerds and employees of the space program. And if you’re in the space program, you probably shouldn’t be watching this anyway. It’s like watching Jaws before going swimming. Everyone else, go see it. But remember what I said about the paper bag and the valium. You’re going to need them.

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