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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Gravity (3-D) | Sandra Bullock, George Clooney | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Gravity  (3-D) | Sandra Bullock, George Clooney | Review

It’s certainly worth seeing for the visuals alone.  

Space, with all of its airless lack of gravity is portrayed as a gorgeous star–strewn field of enormous solitude and silent violence, yanking its tethered human visitors around in slow-motion beat-downs of surprising ferocity.  The weightless photography (by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) is an awe-inspiring wonder to behold, and the 3-D effect accentuates the vastness even more.

The first 30 minutes are mesmerizing; fast-moving space debris from a satellite that hurtles toward three unsuspecting astronauts as they work on an exterior mission of the Space Shuttle Explorer.  

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a rookie specialist, allegedly brilliant and competent, but inexperienced in the ways of the Great Void.  Lt. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is the wise-cracking, all-knowing, country music loving veteran spaceman.  Shariff (Phaldut Sharma) is a third crewman, who, if he were a member of the Starship Enterprise crew instead, might as well be wearing a red shirt, if you know what I mean.

The debris causes catastrophic damages to the shuttle and slingshots Stone into a literal head-over-heels spinout that jeopardizes both her and Kowalski’s air supply.  The rest of the 90-minute film focuses on their combined (sort of) efforts to reach several space stations and plunge back to Mother Earth.

And then, Mankind gets in the way.

Academy Award nominated director Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También) co-wrote the script with son Jonás, and seems to have given his female character The Wrong Stuff.  Move over, Don Knotts; Dr. Ryan Stone is an even more reluctant astronaut.

Peril is indeed her co-pilot as she faces low oxygen, burning control panels, tangled parachutes and her own panicky self-doubt for the remainder of the film.  Caught between fear and surrender, Stone gasps and moans and yelps her way toward Earth’s atmosphere, but the writers have one last chance to literally take her breath away – and they do.  That would be perfectly fine, if they would also allow her to handle danger with backbone instead of chicken sh*t.

In sharp contrast to Kowalski’s calm, logical demeanor, Stone is a hot mess of hysterics.  Aren’t NASA-authorized space assignments supposed to be coveted and rare?  Don’t you have to train extensively to qualify for them? You wouldn’t know it from Stone’s behavior, which is not helped by her utterances late in the film which are supposed to be profound but come off as awkward, even silly.

Space exploration does not just fall into someone’s lap, let alone someone with backstory issues.  Stone seems so unprepared you wonder if she indeed was sent to space in a vacuum (no pun intended).  It is an uneven performance, sometimes competent, sometimes skittish, which is disappointing because Bullock is certainly capable of portraying a strong, determined female (her Oscar-winning Leigh Anne Tuohy character from the Blind Side, for instance).  

1998’s Deep Impact featured a suicide mission undertaken as a last resort by a team of U.S. and Russian astronauts in order to divert a meteor from colliding with Earth.  They know they’re going to die.  Crew member Andrea Baker (Mary McCormack) simply states, “Well, look on the bright side. We'll all have high schools named after us.”  No panic, no meltdowns.

Perhaps some would argue that Bullock’s performance is the more realistic.  Wouldn’t anyone be terrified in that situation?  Yes, but generally they’d be the earthbound, untrained masses.  Stone is supposed to be the cream (not the scream) of the crop.

George Clooney has only a fraction of the screen time, and his Kowalski is a bit too glib, but his portrayal at least captures the legendary stoicism of the profession.

The visuals are spellbinding, but the message, sadly, falls short.  Women don’t have what it takes; they’re too emotional.  They need to be rescued by a man.  Really?

Weightless should not have to mean witless, too.

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