The morning rush hour had been unusually heavy. The computer at work would not accept any password. The phone rang every two minutes. The desk was strewn with uncompleted paperwork. It was only 9:00 am.
There is a joke floating on Facebook that says that a day on the planet Mercury is equal to 1408 hours -or- the length of a typical Monday at work. This was turning out to be a typical Monday. After the first hour and a half, the remaining 1399 hours seemed impossible.
During the course of the day one of my colleagues mentioned that she had seen the film Gravity over the weekend. She mentioned that it was a “Must see” film, and adding that to get the full experience the IMAX 3D version was a mandatory.
Altering gravity, even for a moment, has always been an appealing thought. The sensation of suspending oneself, of buoyancy, has frequently been a recurring dream. Unfortunately, reality has consistently encouraged me to stay grounded. The lesson – firm footing equals level-headedness. Thoughts of floating are a distraction from accomplishment. However, it didn’t seem that on that Monday, despite my being firmly grounded in a cubicle chair, anything was being accomplished. By lunchtime, the decision to see Gravity was solid as stone. If buoyancy was a physical improbability, then experiencing it vicariously was the next best thing. \
A bit of scientific trivia - In 1978 Donald J. Kessler, a NASA scientist proposed a scenario in which the density of an object in a close Earth orbit colliding with another orbiting object would generate enough space debris, moving at astronomical speeds, to create a disastrous domino effect in space. Did you know that there are approximately 3,000 satellites at various orbital levels presently circling our planet? (Russia leads with around 1300, followed by the U.S. with approximately 650) These objects orbit at ground speeds of 17,000 to 20,000 miles per hour. That may be hard to fathom. But consider it walking out your door and finding yourself at your work desk at the office. 3,000 objects currently out there at various distances speeding above the atmosphere. The stage is set for a calamity.
This is the premise Alfonso Cuaron’s film Gravity.
A U.S. shuttle orbits the earth. Three shuttle crew members are in the midst of a spacewalk - one, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) repairs a sensor module, another, Shariff (Phaldut Sharma) takes a reading from the loading bay, and the third, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), joyrides around the orbiting vehicle testing a jet pack. Below them the Earth moves at a rate of one full orbit per every hour and a half. Suddenly, an alarm sounds. A Russian satellite has exploded. The debris hurtles directly into the path of the shuttle. The shuttle is hit. Dr. Stone’s tether ruptures. She is hurtled into space, Matt Kowalski and his jet pack rescued her. The problem remains, however, the space shuttle has been destroyed along with the remainder of the crew, and Kowalski and Ryan are stranded in space, with less oxygen than when they started, a limited amount of jet pack propellant, and only an hour and a half before they encounter the debris again. Set against stunning visuals the film promises the viewer a pretty good vicarious space experience.
Unfortunately, the film disintegrates into a series of improbable scientific events, which any student of basic high schools physics will recognize; The script is garnished with overly sentimental writing, from the “I’m not going to make it, so goodbye” to the “ Damn it! I will survive” monologue, seemingly written to give Sandra Bullock a crack at the Academy Award. The script goes so far to a clone DiCaprios’ famous “Hold on, Rose. You’ve got to hold on” statement from Titanic and infuses it into a “Don’t let go!” line in the scene when Kowalski sacrifices himself to save Ryan Stone by letting go of the tether, when a simple action-reaction tug on the tether in a vacuum would have saved them both.
My apologies to those who find the news about Kowalski (Clooney) a film spoiler, but unless you are one of the three hermits out there who have zero access to the media, you already know that Clooney “buys it” , even if you have not seen the film. It’s OK, however, Kowalski (Clooney) does return as a cameo hallucination in the last twenty minutes of the film to offer a despairing Ryan (Bullock) a subliminal hint about how to fly a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
The film is overstocked with one improbable seat flinching scene after another, to a point where the initial calamity becomes repetitive parody of itself. By the time Ryan Stone lands safely on Earth, she has:
1) Floated helplessly in space
2) Propelled to a deserted space station 100 kilometers on less than 2% oxygen supply
3) Lost the person who saved her
4) Scrambled on to space station which caught fire
5) Escaped to a deserted Chinese space station which was then pummeled by space debris
6) Launched herself into re-entry aboard a Russian Soyuz whose computer command console had a Chinese r keyboard
7) Landed on a deserted beach with the ability of being able to stroll it within 50 seconds of landing after several week in space.
All this in 1 hour and thirty-one minutes. This is hard to believe by any stretch of the imagination. But then, again, maybe it was a Monday on Mercury.
This is a very popular film. It cost over $105 million to create, but in the first two week grossed an excess of $177 million. By box office standards it is a success. It is not hard to see why. The visuals are engrossing (The recommendation of seeing it in Imax/3D is a good one). Sandra Bullock once again proves that she is capable of a serious role. Clooney is his usual charming self. And, the film delivers an inspiration message of hope – that despite being the only survivor of six, with the right attitude nothing is impossible. Nevertheless, as a space disaster film it is not as good as Ron Howard’s 1995 film Apollo 13, a film which cost half as much, even by the standards of those days; where the plot centered around one true, formidable obstacle; where the science was plausible; where the script was crisp; and where the graphics were complementary rather than the star of the film.
Many of you have asked me to rate movies I have seen. That’s both difficult and unfair. To say whether a film is good or bad is purely subjective. However, my nephew-in-law, Mark, and his son Max, have devised a clever assessment tool which does apply in the case of Gravity. Mark and Max evaluate films of this type as a culmination of “French horn” moments. A French horn moment is an instance in the story where the musical sound track punctuates an action or emotion with a blare of French horns accompanied by heavy strings and cellos. Gravity is froth with French horn moments. Therefore, on a scale of one to four, it is appropriate to assign Gravity an MMR (MarkMax Rating) of 4 French horns. For those of you who enjoy this kind of stuff, it is all there.
Of course, dear reader, as always this is just my opinion. See the film and judge for yourself.