Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is penetrating the cultural zeitgeist in a big way right now – which means that the 5-star movie is also the target du jour when it comes to both praise and nitpicks. Whichever way our respective opinions might skew, it’s a safe bet that most of us are viewing this film as a piece of cinematic art – few us are equipped to accurately judge the line where science fact crosses into science fiction. However, the real men and women of space exploration are in a unique position to analyze Cuarón’s work – and some of them are now sharing an opinion.
In addition to that, another behind-the-scenes tidbit reveals that star George Clooney was instrumental in helping the film come together; in fact, it was his imagination that gave birth to one of the more pivotal scenes of the entire film. Read on to find out more.
Famous astronauts and other icons related to the study or exploration of outer space have had quite a few things to say about Gravity. In the most headline-grabbing account, THR got second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin to do a guest review of Gravity; here’s some of what the Octogenarian icon had say:
I was so extravagantly impressed by the portrayal of the reality of zero gravity. Going through the space station was done just the way that I’ve seen people do it in reality. The spinning is going to happen — maybe not quite that vigorous — but certainly we’ve been fortunate that people haven’t been in those situations yet. I think it reminds us that there really are hazards in the space business, especially in activities outside the spacecraft.
We were probably not as lighthearted as Clooney and SandraBullock. We didn’t tell too many jokes when people were in some position of jeopardy outside the spacecraft, but I think that’s the humanity coming through in the characters…From my perspective, this movie couldn’t have come at a better time to really stimulate the public. I was very, very impressed with it.
Not bad, right?
WARNING – MILD SPOILERS FOLLOW
While it may have conveyed the overall experience of being in space, and the very real hazards that await there, on the technical side of things Gravity seems to be taking a bigger hit. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson took to Twitter to start a discourse about elements of the movie HE felt lacked authenticity – and boy were his thoughts extensive.
While Tyson said that yes, Gravity‘s basic disaster premise is very plausible, he had some greater measure of skepticism when it came to Sandra Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone. Specifically, Tyson didn’t believe in an M.D.’s appointment to the mission or that the physical mechanics of her hairstyle were done accurately; he questioned some of the zero-G mechanics, as well as technical realities of plot points like the space stations being aligned for Ryan’s springboard journey home or how the satellite debris disaster even happened.
From the standpoint of a highly-trained and brilliant scientist, we could see how such matters could irk you – but Tyson goes further, seemingly hating on the entire movie for even existing before turning a 180° and praising it a day later:
#Gravity: Why we enjoy a SciFi film set in make-believe space more than we enjoy actual people set in real space— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 6, 2013
#Gravity very much.— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) October 7, 2013
The (usual) division in opinion pretty much ripples out from there, with NBC News pointing to real-life events that refute some of Tyson’s claims about space hairdos and medical doctors being astronauts. The news organization also took a wider berth of opinion regarding the movie, but basically got the same result, with sites like Space KSC criticizing Gravity’s accuracy, while The Space Review basically says that entertainment trumping fact is okay, given the story Cuarón wanted to tell.
If anything, this all just more demonstration that no matter what level of intellectual circle you belong to, when it comes to movies, your circle is not immune to the ‘love it, hate it, I’m in the middle’ spectrum of reaction. There’s something (comforting? Disappointing?) about that…
[WARNING: Major Gravity SPOILERS Follow!]
A lot of people know how George Clooney showed up to lend his trademark wit and charm (some would add smugness) to the two-person show that was Gravity - but did you know he also lent a bit of his talent as a writer, as well?
In a press conference (brought to our attention courtesy of Movies.com), Cuarón himself revealed that a key scene in the film was actually written by Clooney, who stepped in to help the filmmakers get over a big hurdle in the story.
The scene in question takes place about 2/3 through film; Ryan Stone is nearly home-free to a nearby space station after a hellish bid to live… except her rocket ship is out of gas. Defeated and broken, Ryan begins to lower her oxygen levels with the concession that she’ll die and be with her deceased child - that is, until Clooney’s Matt Kowalski returns from seeming peril to pep-talk Ryan into making a last-ditch push for survival.
As discussed on the Gravity podcast episode, the scene was a big risk (breaking realism in favor of a more abstract and existential exploration of Ryan’s mind), but it paid off big time – primarily due to the willingness of the audience to suspend obvious rationale out of love and hope for Kowalski to make it. Given that it was Clooney himself who wrote the seen, there’s a clear opening for cynics and haters to tear into him for yet again indulging in his own persona – but Cuarón, for one, was grateful for the assist:
…It was when [Bullock’s character] was ready to go back [to Earth, near the end of the film]. When she has this dream and starts talking to Kowalski about her daughter. And that’s something that George wrote. You have an amazing partner when you work with him.
We were struggling with rewrites, we’d stripped everything, a lot of the dialogue; we knew that anything that was going to be said, it was going to have a lot of weight. There was one scene we were doing over and over and over, and George overheard that we were dealing with that. And then one night I receive an e-mail from him, saying, ‘I heard you were struggling with this. I took a shot with the scene, Read it. Throw it out.’ And we ended up using it. This was exactly what we needed.
Not only was introducing a “Whoops, it’s all a dream” moment into a break-neck thriller extremely risky, the scene also represents the most direct and overt moment of pontification about emotion and philosophy that the film ever touches on. It would’ve been so easy for it to come off as cheesy and soapy, but thanks to Clooney’s matter-of-fact dialogue and sympathetic, straight-shooter delivery, it all works. And when Kowalski vanishes from the screen for that final time, the audience both feels the loss, and has the understanding of why Ryan would sit up and decide to fight again.
That’s great scene work – bravo, Mr. Clooney.
What do you think about science fiction vs. science fact in Gravity? Did anything about the film’s presentation of space exploration bother you? Let us know in the comments.