“Gravity,” which opened wide on October 4, 2013, can best be described as a magnificent kinetic movie filled with a strange mixture of beauty and terror. Suffice to say that the astronaut characters played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock discover that Newton’s three laws of motion can be your friend but more often than not you deadly enemy.
The story is set in a slightly altered universe than ours in which the space shuttle is still flying and the Chinese have a space station. Clooney plays a right stuff style astronaut with a certain rakishness that only Clooney can pull off without seeming annoying. Bullock plays a rookie, a medical doctor who has only six month’s training and is thrust into the peril of her life when a Russian satellite is accidentally destroyed, causing a debris field to spread throughout low Earth orbit, devouring other satellites, creating missiles shooting at orbital speed.
“Gravity” is a visual spectacle when it shows how objects behave in microgravity, Things and people spin uncontrollably in a kind of horrible but oddly lovely dance that can end in death at any moment. For most of the movie, Bullock finds herself alone and at the mercy of those three laws of motion, oxygen running out, hope all but lost. Her struggle to survive and get home is met with obstacle after obstacle which she has to overcome with alacrity, courage, and no little luck.
Some have compared “Gravity” to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Both the space movie that it more resembles is “Apollo 13,” the Ron Howard directed real life astronauts in peril movie that won such acclaim in the 1990s. But where “Apollo 13” took place in the claustrophobic confines of the Apollo spaceship, “Gravity” takes place in the acrophobic environment of space. The fear is more intense in the latte movie. Death could come at any second.
While some may nitpick some of the details of the movie, when one has the endorsement of Buzz Aldrin one doesn’t need to be absolutely scientifically accurate. “Gravity” has come out at a time of great promise but also great angst concerning the exploration of space. NASA is being whittled away to nothing by a lack of leadership, a lack of direction, and a lack of money. There is some promise, though, from the commercial space sector, albeit partly because of government subsidies. “Gravity” reminds us that space travel can have a version of what Kipling called “the price of Admiralty” and that those who dare the high frontier do so at the risk of a lonely and often grisly death.
In other words, a must see movie. Ten out of five stars.