Howdy, folks. I know it’s been while, but I haven’t been getting out to the movies much lately. However, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity has been on my must see list for months now, so yesterday I went to check it out… in IMAX 3-D no less. First of all, I should address the 3-D thing. I have seen exactly two other movies in 3-D and I really just don’t like it. I get it, I just don’t care for it. I want to watch a movie, not pretend I am inside a movie. Having said that, I heard from everyone that this one was really enhanced by the 3-D, so I went all in and have to say that I agreed. The 3-D was amazing and really did enhance the overall experience. I imagine that if you are already a fan of the format then you’ll really love it. Now on to the movie.
***SPOILERS AHEAD – DO NOT READ FURTHER BECAUSE I AM GOING TO SPOIL, SPOIL, SPOIL***
Gravity is simple story, and one we’ve seen countless times before. It follows the events, roughly in real time, of a space walk gone wrong, leaving a veteran astronaut (Clooney) on his final mission, trapped in space with a young, inexperienced specialist (Bullock). Things go wrong pretty quickly and the rest of the movie is all about surviving the mission. It’s basically the same premise as Tom Hanks’ Cast Away, which I thought was a decent movie that was bloated by unnecessary schmalz and sentimentality. I can say the same thing about Gravity, except that it is not bloated, at a trim 90 or so minutes.
First, the good. Boy oh boy, does this movie look and sound amazing. I mean REALLY amazing. It’s jaw-droppingly awesome as a visual effects feast. You literally feel like Cuaron found a way to go into deep space and shoot a movie. It’s overwhelming how gorgeous and realistic it is and I didn’t even give two seconds thought to how he pulled it off. Second, the film really is fraught with tension and thrills. It’s an edge of your seat experience, and I found myself white knuckled at times and literally gasping as the events onscreen unfolded. How’s the acting? Not bad. Clooney plays Clooney and Sandy Bullock really does a pretty great job given the script she’s given to work with. Which leads me to the bad…
I have never seen a movie that was so good that had a script that was so bad. It’s predictable, it’s schmalzy, it’s unnecessarily sentimental, and completely on the nose and not-subtle. There were no surprises for me, I saw everything coming a mile away. The backstory that Cuaron and his screenwriting partner son cooked up for Bullock’s character was totally unnecessary and fell right in line with every other trite Hollywood movie fair we’ve all seen a million times before. Clooney’s veteran, wise-cracking, cool-headed astronaut was so one-note and predictable that I found myself getting angry at Clooney himself, someone I admire as a filmmaker, for not fighting for a more original take on the character.
So here’s the deal for me – I really enjoyed most of this movie, but I was so taken out of the amazing experience I was having by the awful dialogue that it tainted the entire experience for me. Every time I found myself fully engrossed, one of the two characters comes along and ruins it by opening their mouth and spewing sentimental garbage that felt straight out of a beginner’s screenwriting course. The moments that were best were the silent ones, and I found myself getting completely taken in and losing myself in the moment. What really bothers me is that it was all completely unnecessary. They spent six years making a truly breakthrough and breathtaking film and did not need the predictable Hollywood tripe for us to invest in the characters. In fact, a guy next to me at my screening laughed afterward and said “I was rooting for her to die by the end of it.” That may be harsh, but I got his point. A movie this great should not have me rolling my eyes every ten minutes because of what the characters are saying. One of the first rules of screenwriting is to show, not tell. And while this movie did its fair share of showing, it did way too much telling. And I can’t even talk about the ghost Clooney scene. Besides being utterly predictable, it was so schmalzy and poorly written that I wanted to throw my popcorn at his handsome face.
Should you go see Gravity? Absolutely. Will you have as much of a problem with the script as I did? Maybe so, maybe not. I’ve noticed some giving Cuaron a free pass because he’s such a great filmmaker and it’s such an amazing achievement. Personally, I was upset afterward, because I felt like I was so close to seeing something truly amazing, and ended up getting a Hollywood version of what should have been a true artistic statement. Get rid of 40% of the dialogue and you have a masterpiece. I’m trying to imagine this same film re-written by the late, great Stanley Kubrick. Or maybe a secret re-write from the Coen brothers or someone like Mark Boal (Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty). I imagine one day some nerd will re-cut a largely dialogue-free version for the Internet that I’ll love. I also predict that those fawning over the film as the greatest movie ever made might change their tune after a second or third viewing, when the effect of being blown away by the VFX wears off. Until then, Gravity just comes close to greatness with a B+ rating from Chuckers.