February 21, 2014

If Miss Congeniality floating about in space, giving rousing speeches against a crashing score is your bag, then strap yourself into Gravity. It lives and dies by it’s leading lady, who, after years of delivering dialogue care of the bottom of the barrel, is put to work in a movie as contrived as it is exhilarating. There is benign support from George Clooney- and stereotypical character arcs abound, but it’s Bullock who has to make you forget the mawkish monologues and ‘oh come on’ twists so that you wish her back to earth in one piece.

But there are just too many exasperating turns for that to happen in a flick where key information is imparted via ghostly dreams and inaccurate fuel tank readings are discovered by tapping on a faulty fuel gauge. All the while it asks you to take leaps of faith you could fling space debris through on her character who -lest we forget, had only six months training before this, her first mission.

Of course none of this would have mattered had critical hyperbole not reached catastrophic levels before I saw it. The never bettered planetscapes of Earth and the spectacular action set pieces would have been more than enough to compensate for the pungent odor of blockbuster cheese. It is a brilliant visual spectacle that charts a woman’s battle for survival in a treacherous and ever-changing environment.

But I was told I was going to have my cake and eat it. That Gravity was an all-in-one package whereby high budget action would be jumped up on cheap thrills and buzzing off Oscar-caliber performances.

Instead there are lazy stereotypes, suffocated by back-stories as lifeless as a dead daughter and a career ending without the achievement of a regularly stated goal. And as the material from a wrecked Russian satellite cuts them off- first from Houston, then each other, it’s these tragedies that take precedence over their current, far more exhilarating, predicaments.

For every bitten nail there’s a clump of hair torn from your head as director Alfonso Cuaron and his screenwriter son,Jonas, fail to trust that an audience can invest in the fate of two astronauts stranded in the darkness and silence of space, without filling that silence with diabolical dialogue. That the pressure and tension of the situation would be almost unbearable if they weren’t constantly wasting (what is supposed to be precious) oxygen delivering lines as inane as ‘North America just lost their Facebook.’

Clooney and Bullock do what they do best, charm and endear, but this just serves to further distance our interest in their characters, making the movie less about human survival and more about a familiar flow of activity that ticks every butter-popcorned box while crossing out any attempt to explore determination and endurance.

Cuaron had the chance to give us a realistic portrait of the perils of space travel, a Sci-Fi drama that was neither biopic nor fantasy.

Such a pity then, he burnt up reiterating blockbuster blarney.


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