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'Gravity' is visually stunning, but lacking in excitement

Oct. 11, 2013 @ 09:15 AM

I was originally going to see (and review) "Runner, Runner" the new Ben Affleck-Justin Timberlake shoot'em up, but after hearing how bad that movie was, I was drawn in (pun intended) to "Gravity."

Directed by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," "Love in the Time of Hysteria"), this 3-D space movie was nowhere near as "magnificent" as I was led to believe (which is why I try really hard to stay away from reviews and "buzz" until I actually watch the movie).

For starters, it has to be really tough to make an exciting film with just two characters. It was done well in "Rush," the movie that I reviewed last week, but there were plenty of incidental characters running throughout the film. The addition of even a few minutes of the wives, pit crew and money backers, even in small doses, was a huge advantage.

Add to that, the fact that "Rush" was about the world of speed and excitement, as opposed to "Gravity," which is about the world of silence and serene thinking.

Many two (or one, or three) character films offer up flashbacks ("CastAway," "Dead Calm") or write in additional people passing through ("I am Legend," in its various forms, "Enemy Mine"). This improves the movie as a whole.

"A List" star Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side," "Miss Congeniality," "Speed") performs as Doctor Ryan Stone, the modern movie equivalent of Lieutenant Ripley from "Alien," a movie that is almost 35 years old (hard to believe). I mention this SciFi classic because I equate this week's movie to all of the excitement of "Alien" BEFORE they get the distress beacon.

"Gravity" was more boring than I was led to believe.

The Powers That Be upgraded the boredom level by adding all-star George Clooney ("ER," "Ocean's Eleven," "The Perfect Storm") as Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut who is supposed to be this devil-may-care cowboy, who has done the Space Thing so many times that it has become a game to him.

To use Clooney, who is intelligent, charming, good-looking and suave, to play a fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants, "Let the Good Times roll!" kind of guy, is a huge mistake. I always picture Clooney as someone who thinks out every problem, weighs every decision, and calculates his every move...

A Bruce Willis or a Jason Statham would have been a better choice, although Clooney does his best at what he does. Action movies have never been his forte, although he did pretty well in "The Perfect Storm."

The biggest minus that others have expressed in this movie was the glaring technical inconsistencies (pointed out by career Geeks), but I saw very little that should not be covered under the invisible "Hollywood license" doctrine.

The biggest plus is supposed to be the awesome 3-D effects that are used in the "outside the spaceship" scenes. Don't get me wrong, they WERE very good, but hardly awesome. It was typical Hollywood "see what magic we can do, when we have unlimited capital to create magic?"...

Maybe, too, it is because I watch 100-plus movies per year, so my rose-colored glass may just be a bit more scratched up than most viewers. I saw some wonderful debris-on-debris crash scenes that looked nothing like real life, although they were cool to watch; I saw magnificent Earth horizon pix that would have looked equally magnificent if they had used actual NASA footage.

I saw WAY TOO MUCH flotsam and jetsam floating around inside space modules, where such tiny eating utensils and office supplies would wreak havoc if jammed into the right piece of sensitive equipment the floating bits and pieces in the wrecked craft, I understand, but in the other spaceships, I did not).

I realize that this was (over)done to show weightlessness, but they could have used that part of the CGI budget to make Bullock's hair float, instead.

The cute little chess pieces floating inside the Russian ship, and the floating ping pong paddle in the Chinese one, was obviously an insider joke, and I wondered why no one put an NFL bobblehead in the American shuttle (or perhaps, I just missed it).

In any case, "Gravity" was about as good as it gets, when adding adventure and excitement to Rocket Science, but the whole movie was like your high school chemistry teacher cracking insider jokes about ions and protons.

Or, maybe it was just me...

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.