If you are planning to see the space thriller gravity, make sure you watch it in IMAX 3d.That is probably the only way you will find science in the film, because once you take out the earthscapes and the authenticity related science(water floats like so in space, people spin like so….)the film really might well be about a stalker and Sandra Bullock alone in a big house with a cleaving knife. Is it too much to expect that a science fiction movie will have some serious science in it?
Let me back up for a bit..There are two broad kinds of science fiction ,to my mind. One is the Asimov variety, where you let go of all your current frame of reference and enjoy thestory as pure fantasy. it could equally be about kings and queens in the past as it could about the future and rocket ships. This can broadly be called fantasy. The other is science fiction I call the Arthur C Clarke variety, where the science in the fiction has almost rational extrapolation from today’s science. so , if there is , say a ship flying at faster than light speeds, the fiction explains the science behind the reason why the ship can fly faster than light. Readers learn a little bit of today;s science and method , if they are in the mood to.
In other words, curiosity is rewarded with information. In liberal arts (such as literary criticism) this is also called insight, except that instead of intuiting the insight as a flash of a vision that occurs like magic , from human or extraterrestrial sources, there is scientific basis to observed scenes/events.
PURE science fiction film is few and far between , although some of Speilberg’s and sometimes (surprisingly) Lucas’s films have a smattering almost as an introductory backgrounder to all that stuff that blows up later in the film. The other filmmaker who consistently impresses me with his science in the science fiction is the fantasy disaster filmmaker Roland Emmerich whose storytelling is filled with visuals that make for insightful science …and some dry social comment…. but I diagress.
Ordinarily, out of Science fiction cinema, if a filmmaker hits two out of the three (in this case fiction and cinema) that would make me declare a success of the film. But not here. The lack of science given the overwhelming presence of scientific gee whiz in its visuals and set up leaves Gravity a cinematic document lacking scientific weight to hold it down. Lacking this , the film comes across as a souffle of a crowd pleaser IMAX film where authentically stunning visuals and some genuinely well written cinematic scenes lack a radiating core of energy.
So when you go in expecting 2001: A space odyssey, you see a toned down version of James Cameron’s Alien (Bullock is even a toned down version of Sarandon) , the terror a toned down version of the terror you feel when you are alone in space with an alien.
Why am I evaluating the film as fantasy and not science fiction? lack of scientific depth to the narration. It is too concerned with manipulating its audience ‘s emotions and does so masterfully, but in the process it glosses over the science of EVERYTHING in the film. Sandra Bullock handles a tool in space. How does it work? how does it fasten to her space suit? she runs out of oxygen. what is the mechanism that keeps the oxygen running in her suit? Clooney flies with a jetpack.what IS this jetpack and what principles does it work on? Once bullock is in side the escape capsules (both the russian and the chinese one) there is NO science, she might well be flying a car…and complaining that the Japanese model has signs in Japanese. And even thoughthere is panic, the effects of tumbling in space which is (reportedly) a terror of falling without direction that overtakes your senses and gives you physiological symptoms similar to nitrogen sickensss underwater are not shown…The film glibs its way back to a boring old “woman alone facing death” format, which will probably fetch warner brothers the 150 million US(350 million international) gross they are looking for , but not because they made a good film….because they made an UNUSUAL film with pretend science.
Perhaps if it were set anywhere on earth , I wouldn’t have been so disappointed with the film’s lack of science. Maybe it’s me.
Gravity: Lacks specific gravity.