Thoughts on Gravity

*THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS*
If you’ve not seen the film Gravity, you might not want to read it!

Just in case the post title didn’t give it away, I went to see the film Gravity the other day.  My parents saw it a few days previous and when I expressed my interest in seeing it they offered to treat me as they’d be happy to see it again (aren’t they nice?!)

I’ve heard a few people on the interwebs marvelling at how good the film is and the premise of the movie intrigued me.

I am by no means a film critic so do not consider this to be a full review, it merely represents my view of the movie.

Gravity is set in space, you probably know this.  General storyline is that a couple of astronauts are installing a new component on the exterior of the International Space Station whilst it orbits the Earth.  The controlled destruction of a Russian satellite goes wrong, causing a chain reaction of satellite destruction resulting in very large quantities of debris to orbit the Earth at very high speeds.  The ISS is in line of the debris and is hit, throwing the astronauts off into space.

Without going into too much detail the film revolves around the two survivors of this event as they attempt to reach safety.  Obviously a rather difficult task.

The main plotline is solid and the events are believable from a film standpoint.  I’m not sure if, or how satellites are destroyed by missiles but it works for the purposes of the film and the story seems fresh and isn’t just a rehash of every other survival story.

The setting (for want of a better word) is stunning.  Even though space is a fairly simple arena, the movie pulls it off wonderfully.  To start, the ISS sets are superbly lifelike, I would guess that most of the exterior is CGI and couldn’t tell if the interiors were replica sets or had been built by NASA for training.

As Douglas Adams once said: “Space, is big.  Really big.”  and that sure as Hell comes across in this film.  I truly felt the massive expanse of the environment (or absence of it).  And the views of Earth?  Good Lord, the views of Earth!  I have no idea where the imagery came from but it’s fantastic, the artists have done an amazing job on every aspect of this film.

The other thing that struck me as really good was the way the filming really gives the impression of being in zero gravity.  Constantly spinning and floating disorientates you and highlights how zero gravity would be.

Other than a few voiceovers and one physical appearance (a very good one at that) at the beginning of the film, the only cast are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  Both put on very good performances.

Clooney’s performance as Matt Kowalski, the ever optimistic veteran astronaut is humourous and consistently professional.  He knows that there are lives in danger and that there’s not a lot that can be done, but he keeps his cool and shows an excellent way of dealing with people in a crisis.

Bullock’s acting is also top notch, I have no idea how she was instructed to act as if she were in zero gravity but it paid off, I’ve seen a few YouTube videos of people on the ISS and I could easily mistake the performance for one of these videos.  The emotion that Sandra portrays as Ryan Stone is great, from nervousness in the opening stages whilst performing the installation, the panic of drifting, untethered in space, the hopelessness of knowing your going to die and eventually the determination of going to survive at the end are compelling and accurate.

So, a good story, great acting, beautiful scenery.  What can go wrong?  What can ruin a well executed film?

The final 20 to 30 minutes.

Through the first hour I sat, enthralled, marvelling at what was going wrong, tense and eager to know how things would pan out.  And then the end of the movie starts and in my opinion, it ruins everything.

I should let you know now that this is where the spoilers really kick in.

There comes a point in the movie where Kowalski has drifted off into space (in a heroic ‘save the girl’ sort of way), Ryan has made her way to an ISS escape pod, undocked from the ISS, lined the pod up with a Chinese station but discovers that there is no fuel in the pod to actually get her there.  All hope is lost.  She turns two great big knobs and starts venting oxygen from the cabin, listening to the inane ramblings of a foreign person on an AM frequency she picked up whilst trying to communicate with base.

It’s a touching moment. Ryan has accepted her fate, and makes an effort to speed up the process of her demise, knowing she will see her deceased daughter again.  I had a wee tear in my eye and a lump in my throat, and that’s where I expected the credits to roll.

But they didn’t.

Ryan is brought out of her CO2 induced sleep by a knock at the window.  It’s Kowalski.  That in it’s own right confused the shit out of me, then he opens the bloody door which surprisingly, doesn’t instantly asphyxiate poor Ryan.  At this point I realised, and I’ll save you the trouble, that Ryan is hallucinating (CO2 will do that).

Anyhoo, hallucination Kowalski (or Ryan’s subconscious) give Ryan the idea of using landing jets to power the escape pod towards the atmosphere, which she does.  Successfully re-entering without burning up and safely lands in a lake.  It’s ridiculous.

I always thought that atmospheric entry required fairly precise calculations, not a point and shoot attitude with an un-fuelled escape pod.  I could be wrong, I’m no NASA scientist and I guess this is what escape pods would be used for.  But still, after a series of believable events, this was the first bit that I didn’t believe.

The second bit that I didn’t believe was the landing site.  The Earth’s surface is (according to general statistic) 75% water, so the odds of landing in something wet are pretty high, I’ll give you that.  But landing in a lake, only a few strokes away from a sandy verge is, in my eyes, very unlikely.  Possible, but unlikely, especially without any preparation or calculation of trajectory.

In my view, these two major events completely trash the plausibility of the film, everything up to this point is excellent and the creators just seem to have stuck this bit on the end so that everyone has a happy ending and because it bulks the film out to an hour and a half.

There was no need at all, what’s wrong with a sad ending?  In these circumstances it would feel much more real, the odds of surviving the catastrophic events of the film are very slim so after creating such an accurate setting, and acting it well, why take that reality away for the sake of a few audience smiles?

So yeah, that’s my main view of Gravity.  It’s fantastic, up until the last half hour or so.

Although there is one more thing that bugs me.  Whilst using the escape pod, in order to make sure she’s doing things right Ryan pulls out a couple of manuals.  Having manuals available is a good thing and I would fully expect it.  However, the colour coding seemed odd to me.  One was red, the other green.

I can’t say that they definitely wouldn’t be red and green because I’ve never been in an ISS escape pod, and chances are the film’s creators did more research than I have so they’re probably right.  But it seems to me that the prevalence or red/green colour blindness would mean that such colour coding could be fatal.  Maybe you’re not allowed to be colour blind if you’re an astronaut, just to be on the safe side.

I suppose we still use red and green for traffic lights, warning signs and things but generally they have other clear instructions (red is never the bottom traffic light, danger signs have big symbols on them etc).  I genuinely don’t know, it just bugged me.  If you happen to know about NASA’s manual colour coding system please let me know.

Thanks for reading.

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