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MOVIE REVIEW: Gravity Sets the Bar for Space Films to Lofty New Heights

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I wasn’t trying to mimic the astronaut in the poster, I… just… tripped… yeah, that’s it, I tripped!

 

Space, the final frontier or just plain final?

 

The latter is the sense I got after walking out of Gravity, the  and  space survival story that recently launched into multi-megaplexes the nation over.  Oddly enough, my exit was slower and more labored than usual as it felt as if the Earth’s own gravity had tripled since entering the theater, most likely due to the sheer intensity of the film.  Although an argument could also be made for the 14 pound bag of Reese’s Pieces I seemingly inhaled during the course of the flick.

 

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“When this baby hits 17,580 miles per hour, you are going to see some serious s*!$.”

 

Either way, both Erika “The Spunky Destructor” Diaz and I floated into our local Muvico XL super-screen showing of Gravity with some pretty lofty expectations having heard from friends and reviewers alike that this movie was the second coming of Leonard Nimoy, forgetting the fact the man is still alive as I type this.

 

As per the norm, I will tread lightly on the summary details: a) since you can read overviews on the internet for weeks on end until your eyes are as dry as the skin on George Hamilton’s face, and b) the plot is pretty straight forward.  Anyone who has seen even 10 seconds of a Gravity trailer knows it’s about astronauts that get stranded in space after a high-speed satellite yard sale is created by the Russians playing space invaders with their own orbiting hardware.

 


In space, no one can hear you soil your pants.

 

In that spirit, as is also a Geek Outlaw staple, I tread pretty lightly on dishing out any life-changing spoilers since I want you to actually read my review before you see the movie and I don’t want to worry about any of you putting a bounty on my head for ruining your $50 movie-going investment that you could have ruined just as easily in the stock market.

 

Unlike the Dow Jones, however, Gravity is the closest thing you can get to a sure bet return on investment in the theaters.  It’s gripping, funny, scary, thought-provoking, tear-jerking, inspirational, and even though I may have mentioned it already but will do so again because of my male memory-based DNA, incredibly intense.

 

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“Please, please please tell me one of these is the tuner for XM Satellite…”

 

All that being accounted for, the most out-of-this-world (pun clearly intended) aspect of the film is the special effects.  Above all else, Gravity – and no Warner Bros didn’t promise to recast Batman to get me to say this – is a visual masterpiece.  The only thing that could have made me feel more like I was in space would have been if NASA decided to strap a rocket to my theater seat and send me to the blackness of the universe to watch the film.  (Which reminds me, I may be returning to the theater to catch this film again in the glory of D-Box moving seats.)

 

What’s more, unlike 150% of it’s predecessors, the 3D version of this movie is a must see.  Even though 3D cameras themselves weren’t used due to the special rigs used during filming not being able to support their weight, this is by far the best 2D to 3D conversion, if not one of the best uses of 3D I’ve witnessed in a long time.  Mind you, the 3D isn’t overused in that hokey things flying out at the audience kind of way, but it is utilized with great effect in providing depth to space that hasn’t been seen before.  When you don’t use 3D cameras and James Cameron is giving you props, you know you did something right.

 

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Somewhere, Michael Bay is drooling on his bed made of money… and explosives.

 

Add to that Sandra Bullock pulls off one of the best – emotional and physical – performances of her career, and you have a winning movie on pretty much every level.  Hell, even George Clooney – whom is definitely not on my list of actors getting a Christmas card from me… ever – delivers a light-hearted, yet touching performance as Bullock’s veteran crew mate aboard the shuttle.  I say that with the caveat that that last sentence doesn’t leave this page if you all know what’s best for you.  As an interesting fun fact, apparently Robert Downey Jr. and Angelina Jolie were originally set to star in the main two roles.  Let the geek debate begin…

 

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“Having re-frozen beans for lunch probably wasn’t my best decision.”

 

If I had to best describe the tone of the movie, just imagine if the two Tom Hanks movies of Apollo 13 and Cast Away had a lovechild and it came out with the voice of (voice of NASA mission control in Gravity and Apollo 13).

 

Alas, nothing in life is absolutely perfect, and so goes it with (most) movies.  I wouldn’t be a perfect reviewer – or doing this thing I like to pretend is a job – if I didn’t bring forth a few of the minor annoyances that keep the flick from being a perfect ten.

 

For starters, the emotional elements of the film didn’t quite have the emotional wallop for me like I felt they should have.  Don’t tell that to Erika though, as my feet were ankle deep in the tears originating from my movie-mate’s cranium.  Unfortunately, for me it felt as if most of the dramatic scenes were swallowed up by the non-stop intensity of the rest of the film.  Add to that the audience is literally thrown into space from the get-go with the debris disaster taking place just a few minutes in, and not much time is provided to get to know the shuttle crew.

 

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“Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”

 

Hence, you don’t get to see the home-life or family of our space-walkers pre-launch, and what we learn about everyone is done so piecemeal during very short breaks between the action.  The visual disconnect from their earthly lives made connecting with the characters above earth a tougher sell.  That said, the ol’ tear ducts did lubricate my eye sockets on a few occasions, which is a testament to the performances delivered by Bullock and Clooney.

 

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A performance I’m not sure I WANT to know about…

 

One of the many additional things I also enjoyed about Gravity was how the story was presented as being entirely plausible, and indeed, the satellite destruction domino effect is actually a feared real-world scenario called the Kessler syndrome (or Kessler effect), as theorized by former NASA scientist Donald  J. Kessler.  My mention of that leads me to one of the things I didn’t enjoy, which was the pile up of obstacles they threw at Stone (Bullock) towards the latter part of the story.  I felt like a few of the hurdles were unnecessary in the grand scheme of things and only ended up coming across as humorous in an eye-rolling kind of way.  It felt like they were hitting Stone and the audience with everything but the kitchen sink, and I’m pretty sure I even saw one of those floating around at one point.

 

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Despite looking like a marble with a bad case of fleas, that is indeed earth surrounded by our space garbage.

 

The thing that may have been the biggest disappoint to me though… why the short hair Sandra?!  My eyes were bulging – among other things – when Ms. Bullock stripped away her space suit to reveal a stellar body that had obviously been to the gym quite a bit before the shoot, but then my space bubble burst when she removed her cap to reveal her Peter Pan-inspired locks.  I know why this was done, but it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

 

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Look, it’s the little boy who can fly… err, actually…

 

Prior to some teaser trailers I viewed earlier in the year, my main exposure to the potential tour-de-force that is Gravity, came at this past summer’s San Diego Comic-Con, where Sandra Bullock and writer/director Alfonso Cuarón showed up to promote the film with some exclusive footage and behind-the-scenes info on the making of the movie.

 

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My question, how does catering setup down there?

 

The footage is a distant memory now that I’ve seen the film in full; however, I do remember being able to momentarily shift my attention – and stream of drool – from the missile-locked focus I had on Sandra Bullock’s always incredible smile and her extremely athletic build, to absorb a few interesting tidbits.  Don’t laugh fellow Outlaws, Miss Congeniality may be knocking at the half-century mile marker, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try and make her forget Jesse James faster than you can say “Mrs. Sandra Outlaw.”

 

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One of only a few 49-year-old teenagers I know of.

 

The first piece of info that caught my attention was Alfonso’s proclamation that this would be the first space-based movie that realistically captures the silence that is space.  As many geeks know, the universe outside our planet’s layers of ozone is like a huge Hoover, there is no air, no atmosphere, and in-turn, no sound.  This not only provided an odd sense of realism us sci-fi-loving brethren are not accustomed to, but lent to the quiet Castaway-like feel that I mentioned above.

 

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“All by myself… don’t wanna be… all by myself…”

 

One of the other more interesting tidbits had to do with the many interesting new camera techniques used to capture some of the more heart-stopping moments.  One of these methods involved hurtling a camera at the actors face faster than a stock car makes a left turn, only to have the camera stop inches from said actor’s precious money maker.

 

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Sneak peak at Ghostbusters 3: The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Statue of Liberty’s love child attacks New York.

 

Another new contraption called a Light Box was also created in order to accurately portray the way light reflects in space.  This required Bullock (and Clooney) to sit in a confined area not much bigger than a Kleenex box for the better part of the three month shoot.  Combine that with the other anti-gravity shots being done under water and ironically enough, space was the last thing any of the actors experienced.

 

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“Follow my hand… you are getting sleepy… and when I snap my fingers you will accept a half of your usual rate for this movie… you are getting sleepier…”

 

In the end, the money and creative MacGyvering used for special effects on set made for one of the most realistic space-centric movies, if not the best-looking space movie I’ve ever laid my geeky-brown eyes on.  In fact, the movie proved to be so immersive and realistic, any day dream-like fantasies of propelling myself into the cosmos have been put on hold for an undetermined amount of time (specifically, forever).

 

Thanks to Gravity, I have no issues keeping my boots firmly planted on the ground, or at the very least, within Earth’s human friendly atmosphere.

 

5 Spurs

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