Warning: some plot spoilers. Plot summary.
I watched Gravity over the holiday. A domestic screening with a relatively modest HD tv and hifi—it’s the sort of film that probably does work best in the cinema. At least, we turned the lights off to add to the ambience.
Firstly, the film would be immensely improved by cutting the entire music soundtrack. There is not a single millisecond in which the music is not crass, jarring and intrusive. It is wholly without merit in itself, lacking any imagination. Personally, I would very strongly advocate having no music soundtrack at all (and certainly not one prostituted from serious music as, apparently, the film’s trailers had). However, I guess that part of the deal between the director and the studio was obedience to the studio’s wishes in certain areas including this one. Cuarón is no Kubrick—even so, while he was his own co-producer, I find it impossible to believe he said “yes that is good music” when he first heard the demo tapes.
There is a certain amount of undefined electronic chirruping, which I personally like. But Cuarón’s biggest disappointment is his failure to exploit the most important acoustical phenomenon of the scenario—that, in space, no one can hear you scream, or hear anything else. Were he a better director, he would have been able to ratchet up the tension sufficiently that a soundtrack made up of just voices, incidental noises heard within vehicles and a little almost subliminal electronics would have been devastating. Perhaps he should just have had the courage of his convictions, had he had them.
[For a film with no extraneous soundtrack (except the natural noises of the actors in the environment—OK, plus a few, subtle “ghostly” noises), see Paranormal activity. And for an idea of the sort of low level electronic noises that might be included, listen to Brian Eno’s album Apollo.]
Secondly, for the plot to work, it is necessary to believe that a spaceperson, on her first mission, is able to pilot Chinese and Russian craft—whose signs are, unsurprisingly, in Chinese and Russian characters and in whose operation she can have had no training— with barely more than a riffle through a, conveniently to hand and suspiciously thin, manual. At this point, any credibility the story has goes through the window and one cannot help noticing more infelicities in the scenario. For example, the various, real, orbiting vehicles used in the story are not in the places they have to be for the film to work. (Personally, I was pleased to see that the heroine had shaved her armpits unfeasibly recently.)
Personally, I wasn’t offended by the deus ex machina device whereby the now dead colleague of the heroine reappears in some sort of hallucination to tell her how to make the vehicle she is in move despite the apparent lack of power etc etc.
But this does leak into a more general criticism of the patriarchal setup of the story—the heroine’s colleague, an experienced spaceperson on his last mission, gets killed off rather early and rather unconvincingly. So the plucky little lady has to go it alone.
According to Wikipedia, “Cuarón told [the] BBC that he sees the film rather as ’a drama of a woman in space’ ”. I find this extraordinary. There is nothing in the plot which specifies the sex of the protagonist and Cuarón does nothing in the script (which he co-wrote) to explore this little detail, beyond some guff about the heroine’s dead child. Why would this be inexplicable, even in Hollywood, coming from the mouth of a man?
Personally, I think the story would have been better had the heroine had died on reentry. Partly because the chances that she could judge the correct angle of entry into the earth’s atmosphere in a foreign vehicle—and then achieve it—are vanishingly small, but mostly because that would be a more fitting consequence of the hubris shown heretofore in the film. It would, to be honest, be truer to life.
Finally, I think the film would have been more gripping if the director had bothered to spend more time establishing the humanity of the two protagonists. Not through dialogue, blankly delivered, but through the simple device of some close ups of their faces.
I must disagree with Peter Bradshaw, the film critic of The guardian, who found levels of excitement and drama that I thought were simply nonexistent (but, as I said, perhaps it only works on the big screen). However he gets the turkey of the month prize for his observation that “The title refers to the one big thing almost entirely absent from the film”.
If there isn’t any gravity up there how do the bleedin’ spacecraft do the bleedin’ orbiting?
© 2015 Jeremy Marchant . updated 1 january 2015 . image: Free images