Recently, I went to see the film Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Clooney plays Matt Kowalski, an experienced astronaut and mission leader on a space shuttle flight to the Hubble space telescope. Bullock plays Dr Ryan Stone, a doctor for whom this is the first venture into space. The film opens with the two astronauts working on the Hubble, which is connected to the shuttle. They are conversing with mission control, and we are given a sense of doom when Clooney says he has a ‘bad feeling’ about the mission. Sure enough, within minutes Houston has announced that a giant cloud of space debris is heading their way as the result of the Russians destroying a defunct satellite. Within minutes, Clooney and Bullock are the only survivors of the former crew of five, and communication with mission control has been lost, due to the debris cloud taking out communications satellites. To make matters worse, the shuttle is catastrophically damaged by the impacts, meaning that the duo are forced to space-walk all the way to the ISS (International Space Station) to borrow a damaged escape pod, to then fly on to the Tiangong-1 Chinese space station.
The main feature of this film is the special effects. Nearly everything in the film is computer generated, including an incredibly detailed rendering of the Earth and of space. The film is only screened in 3-D, and it is easy to see why- whilst the effects are incredible, the plot and cast of the film leave a lot to be desired. Whilst the actors are excellent- especially George Clooney- they are distinctly lacking in number, and the plot is thin and full of inaccuracies.
Throughout the entire film, the total cast of the film consists of just seven people, five of whom are only heard over the radio, and never appear on screen. Whilst this contributes to the feeling of isolation that pervades the film, it also means that the dialogue is rather limited, and this means that the film can get dull at times- several times there are periods of several minutes filled with nothing but heavy breathing (something that Bullock seems to do a lot).
Whilst these issues are just a matter of taste- some people would say that they are overall a beneficial component to the atmosphere of the film- anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of how space works will quickly notice a few flaws in the film:
1) In the film, Clooney and Bullock walk from the Hubble to the ISS in under 90 minutes, and they are in sight of each other. In reality, these satellites are in vastly different orbits to each other, and it would be almost impossible to walk between them
2) The debris cloud whizzing round the Earth destroys ‘every satellite in orbit’. Whilst I have been reliably informed that such a chain reaction is possible, it is not possible that every satellite could have been destroyed, as they orbit at vastly different altitudes, so to take them all out, the cloud would have had to be literally thousands of kilometres in diameter.
3) This one isn’t so much physically impossible as it is ridiculous. In the film, the debris cloud is described as an ‘unexpected side effect’ of the Russians blowing up their satellite. Now I don’t know about you, but I find it inconceivable that anyone could be so stupid as to blow up an orbiting satellite without thinking ‘Wait, if I blow that up, what’s going to happen to the bits?’ It is modelled on an event a few years ago, when the Chinese did blow up one of their satellites, but the debris from that has been nothing more than a nuisance.
Despite these flaws, the film is still pretty good, and the acting is superb (though 45 minutes of Sandra is a little too much in my opinion), meaning that I would give this film 3/5 stars- it is not awful, but I wouldn’t recommend it if, like me, you are fussy about the details.