Defying Gravity

I saw Gravity the other night. This is a movie I was all set-up to like a lot. It’s set in space, which I generally like. It’s a suspenseful adventure, something else I generally enjoy. It’s got great reviews, which is another plus. On top of that George is in it, and I love George. Sure, Sandra Bullock is the other star, but I was willing to overlook that. In other words, all the signs were good.

And so yes, I enjoyed it, sorta, but not as much as I should have or expected to. It makes for tough marking because it’s still an entertaining, well-made and exciting movie, and if you’re willing to watch it from that level you’ll come away happy. Me, well, I’m not unhappy, just not as happy as I would like to be.

It’s times like these I feel like a bit of a nit-picking critic, but the fact is you don’t look for things to be critical of, what happens – with me anyway – is that things pop up that grate on you. You try to set them aside, it’s only a movie after all you tell yourself, and sometimes you succeed – but then something else happens to grate on you. That’s how it was for me Saturday night.

This aspect of movie watching is very interesting. We sit down for 2 hours to escape the routine of our regular life. We’re there to be entertained, and in doing so are happy more often than not to suspend judgement and to overlook the unlikely. Relax pal, it’s just a fillum.

I get that. I’m like that, mostly – but there comes a point.

I remember a couple of movies I watched with my Sydney mate we clashed violently about. The first was V for Vendetta, which I generally liked and felt little to object to (and sympathetic to politically). He thought it was stupid and unrealistic and got very hot under the collar about.

The other movie was Birth, a movie in which the character played by Nicole Kidman comes to believe some young teen is the reincarnation of her dead husband. I was willing to go along with the premise, but found the execution of it ridiculous and unbelievable. In contrast my mate was deeply moved by it. All of which goes to show that taste is very subjective.

Gravity is basically a whole bunch of unlikely, and disastrous, events occurring one after another. More than most people I appreciate that’s exactly how life occurs sometimes. Can it get worse? You betcha. Just as in life a lot of these things have a human agency. We make it worse for ourselves all the time. I do anyway. That’s no news.

It’s no secret that in this film the astronauts are victim to a catastrophe they have no control over, and it escalates from there. They have little influence on events, even if some of the events seem to stretch credibility a little. I’ll cop that. Likewise, the initial incompetence of Bullock’s character I could accept on the basis that in extreme circumstances and in the grip of panic people will do silly and irrational things (though it was eye rollingly frustrating at times).

Ultimately what I wasn’t able to swallow whole were some of the supposedly rational decisions made, seemingly only to advance the story. Combined with the other factors made it seem all of a fabrication – which, of course, it is. It’s a movie after all. The thing is this though: we’re willing to suspend our disbelief so far to be subsumed into the story, but beyond that it sticks in us, it worries at us until it forces us out of the story. That’s what happened with me.

Given the movie of its ilk there was also some unlikely and inappropriate wordiness at times. You couldn’t believe that’s how it would be, and that’s how people would act.

I sound like I’m being very critical of a movie I actually enjoyed, but I think that’s a sign of disappointment in a film that had so much going for it was ultimately not as convincing as it could have been. It’s a beautifully shot, well acted, elegant movie, and few people will go away unentertained. A little less sentimentality, no pathos, and a leaner script and it might have been a favourite movie for me.

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