Mark A. Carter

GRAVITY, Oscars, and story debris

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter writes a movie review about the disingenuous 2013 Oscar winning film: Gravity.

Not since the 1968 film The Green Slime are Coming has a film been made with outer space as the backdrop that is so utterly devoid of a story. Yes, I'm talking about the 2013 film Gravity directed by Alfonso Cuarón Orozco.

The plot goes from A to D much like jumping from stone to stone to cross a small stream. But that is all the movie is about. Where is the story? Without a story, a movie is reduced to spectacle. Ooo. Ahhh. But spectacle is the lowest form of drama. And that equals boring. And I wonder how it ever get green lighted? It is reminiscent of Richard Jaeckel shouting, "Evacuate Section A. Evacuate Section B," and so on in Green Slime, as the toxic alien intruder occupies more and more of the space station. Green Slime was a laughable production. And so is Gravity in high definition.

For anyone who has followed the NASA space program or what the Russians and the Chinese have been doing, the high definition view of our planet from low Earth orbit in Gravity is boring beyond belief. Big screen or small screen is irrelevant without a story. And the story is simply a hop, skip, and jump from decimated space shuttle, to International Space Station, to Chinese Space station, to Earth. As the Black Lectroid leader in the 1984 film The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension states: "Big Deal."

At the outset of Gravity, Cuarón writes that no sound can be heard in the vacuum of space. Then he sets out to drown our senses with music. So, why mention the no sound business if you weren't going to use it to advantage. It makes no sense. Bla. Bla. Bla. Forgetaboutit. The 2013 film Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón is copyright © Esperanto Filmoj and Heyday Films, and is distributed by Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.
The uninformed may well look at Gravity as Science Fiction merely because it occurs in space. NASA does their work in space too but it isn't Science Fiction. It is reality. And Alfonso Cuarón paints Gravity as a likely real scenario. But because it is depicted as reality, it should be classified as irony. See Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism for the definitions of comedy, tragedy, romance, and irony. And as an irony, it leaves the viewer flat. It is the antithesis of why we go to the movies. We watch films to escape. We watch films for the enjoyment of it. Whereas, Gravity neither entertains nor does it give us relief from our daily lives. It merely represents the likely scenario of near Earth disaster and the unlikely scenario of an astronaut surviving.

To me, the film is an insult to NASA and the astronauts who sacrificed their lives in the quest for space. It is an insult to our memory of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, who died on the pad in the Apollo 1 fire of February 21, 1967. It is an insult to the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger who perished seventy-three seconds after takeoff on January 28, 1986 killing all seven crew members. And it is an insult to the crew of Space Shuttle Columbia who perished upon reentry on February 1, 2003, killing all seven of its crew also. And those are just the American astronauts.

As astronauts go, Sandra Bullock's part is not written believably or perhaps it is her acting that is not believable. She does not display the right stuff. Yes, hanging by strings and being marionetted into various positions to achieve the special effect of floating against a green screen that will later be filled in with computer generated imagery was hard. But Ms. Bullock was well compensated for just hanging around. But two things bug me about the performance. Most astronauts train for years, some for a decade before their mission. Yet, Matt Kowalski played by George Clooney doesn't know the faintest thing about Ryan Stone, played by Bullock. Also, what is it with all of Bullock's screaming? It is unbelievable. A well trained astronaut would not be screaming her guts out or gasping with fear. Give me a break. The only time I heard more screaming was in the 1992 film Medicine Man where Lorraine Bracco, playing Dr. Rae Crane, screeched from the jungle tree tops beside Sean Connery. Her screaming was nothing but a distraction. It didn't work in Medicine Man. And it didn't work in Gravity. Please.

But the thing that just bakes my biscuit is when the Chinese capsule Dr. Stone commandeers lands on water. She purposely blows the hatch, the capsule sinks, and her space suit fills with water and nearly drowns her. And frankly, I wish it had because her stupidity popped my bubble yet again. See Fiction Bubble. What trained astronaut would be so stupid as to blow the hatch before help arrives? Also, if you were to blow the hatch, at least put on your helmet so you can float when you exit. Duh?

Blowing the hatch in Gravity is an insult to the memory of Gus Grissom again. His Mercury capsule, Liberty Bell 7, sank because mechanical failure caused the explosive bolts holding his hatch to blow. He always insisted it was a mechanical failure but no one believed him. And he died in the Apollo 1 fire with the controversy on his head only to have his word proven correct years after when the capsule was finally retrieved. To include the incident in Gravity was just in bad taste.

The 1984 film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, directed by Peter Hyams, is the sequel to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. It is based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel 2010: Odyssey Two. 2010 is copyright © MGM. All Rights Reserved.

Space has been done better in every big budget film that came before Cuarón's stab at the abyss. It was done better in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was done better in the 1984 film 2010: The Year We Make Contact. It was done better in the 1960s with the Star Trek TV series, the spinoffs, and the franchise of films that followed, including the latest endeavors by J.J. Abrams.

And survival stories have been done better. Gravity is no Alien (1979,) Cast Away (2000,) Deliverance (1972,) or Flight of the Phoenix (1965.)

And heroines have been done better. Need I say more than the archetypal name Ripley to make my point? We come to respect and to admire Ripley during the course of the 1979 film Alien because she steps up when needed and has an innate survival instinct. We sweat with her. We fear for her safety as she battles the alien threat aboard the Nostromo. We care. Similarly, in the 1997 film Contact we struggle beside SETI researcher Ellie Arroway. And we journey with her aboard the second alien machine toward an unknown encounter and possible death on a distant world. And we care. When she suffers, we suffer. When she struggles, we struggle with her. And when Ellie is broken emotionally, at the end, our hearts break too.

But with Gravity, who cares about Dr. Stone? We meet her a moment before all Hell breaks loose. In another film, such a cardboard character would be ear-marked for death precisely because she wasn't fully developed. And during the film, as much as Cuarón tries to fill in her character, he doesn't succeed. What we are told of her past is too little, too late, and utterly inconsequential. Gravity comes across as contrived, slick and utterly devoid of compassion and substance. It is technically precise but emotionally vacant.

Nevertheless, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disingenuously bestowed seven Oscars on Gravity. It won for Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.

Why should that surprise? The fix is in. The Academy has a long history of bribery, corruption, heavy handedness, and labor struggles. And granting Gravity so many undeserved golden gifts just smells of the same corruption and dirty politics. And if you squint at the end of the film, as supposed incinerated fragments of satellites, space shuttle, and space stations streak across the cerulean sky of Arizona, you may also notice remnants of discarded ethics, discarded morals; and discarded story that might have been, and, of course, seven melted golden statues, showing us all just how far the film awards have fallen and how much the Oscars have lost their luster.

Read: Cry havoc and let slip the cans of apocalypse
Ex Machina
Jupiter Ascending
Jupiter Ascending - Revisited
The Martian
2001: A Space Odyssey
Artificial Super-Intelligence
Can a machine think?
Conceptual Breakthrough
Doomsday Revisited
Future War
IBM Builds Brain
Killer Robots
Robot Takeover
We May Exist in a Simulation

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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