With its attractive heavyweight stars, it’ll pull you in and never let go. You’re certain to fall for it. It deserves to be massive.
The puns are, like the titular force itself, irresistible. And with a $200 million opening, it seems the same goes for the movie. What marks Gravity out from other science fiction stories is that it is built on a lot of solid science and only a touch of fiction, rather than the other way around.
Most blockbusters, science fiction or otherwise, take a pick’n’mix approach to the laws of physics – selecting just those that fit at any given point in the story (something Gravity star Sandra Bullock knows firsthand from the brilliantly ludicrous “flying bus” sequence in Speed). And most sci-fi is usually only “sci” in that it draws on scientific advances and theories to explore “what if” scenarios: what if we could travel in time, or go faster than the speed of light, or meet friendly aliens? The amount of genuine, accurate science involved is usually very limited.
Not that there’s anything wrong with exploring what ifs. The X-Men is not spoiled by knowing that evolutionary theory isn’t big on mutations that grant random superpowers. Nor is Superman any less engaging because we know humans can’t fly.
Gravity is an exceptional exception to all this fantasy overlaid with a thin veneer of science. Even though [spoiler alert] most of the action takes place in space and almost everything besides the actors’ faces has been computer-generated, it’s utterly grounded in reality. Everything from the decals on the spacesuits to our ever-changing Earth above which most of the action unfolds has been recreated in painstaking detail. Rather than dreaming up flights of fancy to rival the Millennium Falcon or Deep Space Nine, all the spacecraft and space stations you see on screen already exist. The Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and China’s Tiangong 1 space laboratory have been digitally mimicked with more precision than even the aliens in the 1960’s television series Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons could muster.
Nitpickers may say this makes Gravity overly faithful to what was already in orbit when production began more than four years ago. As of 2011 the Space Shuttle has been retired from service, and Tiangong 1 is now effectively on death row, supposedly mere days away from being allowed to deliberately burn up during re-entry. This just means it’s more plausibly set in the near past than the near future.
Ensuring each frame has the smack of authenticity is remarkable enough, but this is a moving picture, and what is even more impressive is how convincingly everything moves. Gravity isn’t just a vaguely sciencey title (in the vein of Quantum Leap, Red Dwarf, Event Horizon, Source Code, etc.). It’s a force to be reckoned with throughout the story. While most films cheat by having spacecraft with artificial gravity, or just keeping zero-G sequences to a minimum because they are a nightmare to shoot, this film embraces and explores every aspect of how objects and people are affected by it, particularly by the microgravity in orbit often called weightlessness, and the dangers it can pose.
And it does so accurately enough to satisfy even those who’ve been there. Among several astronauts quick to praise the film is second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin. He was “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…it really points out the degree of confusion and bumping into people, and when the tether gets caught, you're going to be pulled.”