Saturday 20 September 2014

Film: Gravity (2013)

When Gravity hit the cinemas I was very keen to follow the advice of the critics and see it not just in 3D but also on the IMAX screen. Even people who generally disliked 3D acknowledged that this was one film which was made for it, and that the visual spectacle should best be appreciated on the giant screen. For one reason or another I was unable to get to the cinema for three weeks, and when I eventually sat down to book my seats I was very disappointed to discover that the run at my local IMAX had just ended. I still can't understand the thinking behind this; the IMAX schedule wasn't exactly overcrowded (just one showing per day) and the film remained available on the ordinary screen in the same cinema for several more weeks, showing several times a day. However, I couldn't be bothered to travel to the cinema for a second-rate experience, so I didn't see it. Now that it's on DVD, I decided to watch it at home to see what all the fuss was about.

The plot of the film is of course very straightforward and with only two characters of significance it must be one of the simplest screenplays ever written. That enabled the director to focus on what the film was really all about – the experience of being in space. I did think that the plot was rather far-fetched – would the Hubble telescope, and the International Space Station, and a fictional Chinese space station, really all be so conveniently close together in matching orbits? And the debris storm was supposed to have taken out the communication satellites as well – but many of those are in geocentric orbits some 36,000 km up and would hardly have been affected by the same incident that hit the various stations at around 600 km. However, had the plot been realistic the film would have been very short with an unhappy ending.

It isn't the plot that's realistic but the depiction of being in space; the silence, the awkwardness in a bulky space suit, the disorientation of having no "up" or "down", the sharp clarity of the stations in the airless sunlight, the jaw-dropping views. Even on the small screen in 2D this came through very strongly. Clooney isn't exactly stretched in giving a wisecracking hero performance so the attention is very much on Sandra Bullock, who does a good job as a "space virgin" who has to overcome her panic when disaster strikes and demonstrate the Right Stuff to stand any chance of getting home.

I found the film to be edge-of-the-seat gripping, especially in the early part before the improbabilities started to pile up, and well worth watching. However, I agree with the critics: if it looks good on a small screen, it must have been truly spectacular at the IMAX.

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