Tuesday, March 4, 2014

In short: Gravity (2013)

(I wrote this little rant before the film’s expected Academy Awards wins, which only goes to show that obvious things are obvious).

I’m not as enamoured with Alfonso Cuarón’s SF film as mainstream critics seem to be, but let’s start with the good first.

On the level of technical craft, Gravity will be difficult to beat, with brilliant photography, realistic feeling yet subtly spectacular production design, and a for the most part highly effective soundtrack (including sound design) that all bring together effortlessness with a tight focus on their roles in telling the film’s particular story well. Consequently, Gravity contains its fair share of rousing suspense moments and has a visual rhythm that seems hard to beat in its perfection.

Unfortunately, this perfection is marred by some painfully sentimental moments in the script, the sort of pap Hollywood films use when they’re too cowardly to show actual human emotions and instead prefer to go for the self-important representation of sentimentality as humanity, or even humanism. In some scenes – particular the embarrassing bit of dialogue where Sandra Bullock’s character tells dead, absent George Clooney to say hello to her dead daughter in the afterlife, or the film’s plain stupid final shot – this drags the film down considerably. It might as well jump up and shout “gimme an Oscar” at these points, for all the emotional effect this stuff has on me. Of course, actual raw human emotion would just not be pretty enough; somebody in the audience might feel uncomfortable instead of uplifted by intense fakeness pretending to be a deep understanding of the human condition.

I’m also not very happy with the film’s decision to cast stars instead of actors, though Sandra Bullock does an alright job for a woman who can’t change her facial expression anymore thanks to the entertainment industry’s obsession with turning perfectly attractive middle-aged people into plastic doll monstrosities.

Given these problems, I found myself quite frustrating watching Gravity, with the way its technical prowess collides with its emotional dishonesty, and its intellectual emptiness, the way heroic gestures stand in for the much messier human truth, and actual heroism. But then, you can hardly expect anything else watching a movie so clearly aimed at hitting the safe spot that gets one an Academy Award or ten. If you want to see this sort of thing done less hypocritical by a new-ish Science Fiction movie, I’d recommend Sebastián Cordero’s Europa Report instead.


Klee said...

This is exactly how I felt after watching it. I hated myself for missing it on a big screen. There are indeed such impressive special effects but it felt "okay...I'm watching George Clooney and Sandra Bullock perform at a comic con...wearing very expensive costumes!". The end would've been more believable if she came across the Statue of Liberty half-buried on that sandy beach!

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

That ending would also have been a much better reason for the Very Dramatic Music.

I think what bothers me most about the film is how little the film's self-important gestures of profoundness actually pay off. Indeed, I suspect I would have enjoyed this as blockbuster SF adventure without all the depthless attempts at depth.