Gravity: The Movie That Wrote the Book on Failing
Gravity is a "Decent" Film
This is Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. It’s not a bad way to spend 90 minutes of your life, especially if you’re into space movies like I am. I mean it’s got lots of high tech space stuff, some nice serene views of the Earth and enough action to satisfy the thrill-seeker inside you but considering all the acclaim it received, I expected more, a lot more.
There were 2 big reasons why this movie was a disappointment to me. First of all the plot is pretty flat and second, the scientific inaccuracies that come up over and over again were a real immersion breaker. I couldn’t help but say to myself “Come on! Really?”, every few minutes or so.
Gravity: The Plot
The plot is pretty simple. You’ve got a couple of astronauts up in orbit on a shuttle mission to install some sort of upgrade on the Hubble telescope. Bullock’s character is up there because the upgrade is her deal and Clooney is the mission commander. The mission goes ok for the most part with a few glitches here and there causing delays when all of a sudden a Russian missile hits one of their own satellites (presumably to decommission it), unintentionally spraying debris into the paths of other satellites, causing some sort of a chain reaction that ends up destroying every satellite orbiting the Earth and creating a super debris field that tears up the shuttle, kills most of the crew and maroons both Clooney and Bullock. The rest of the movie is about how the 2 of them, and later on just Bullock, try to survive by jumping from one ship or station to the next in an effort to re-enter the atmosphere and go back to Earth. Along the way we are given some lame back-story into Bullock’s character, showing her to be damaged goods because she lost her daughter and can’t deal with it any other way than to shut down and become cold and unemotional. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with all this except that we’re talking about a 90 minute video here and most of it was spent showcasing the visuals and watching things burning, breaking or blowing up so it felt really strained when the movie tried to make us relate to the characters for who they are by rushing these brief emotional interludes and using them to plug holes in between the action. To be honest there’s just not much I want to say about the plot because it wasn’t that memorable so let’s move onto the stuff that really irritated me.
Gravity: Big List 'o' Fail
The first thing that annoyed me was how careless Clooney was being with his backpack jets. I mean he’s burning fuel like it’s water or something and doesn’t appear to be doing anything constructive at all. He’s certainly not working, just horsing around. From the beginning of the movie right up until the accident all he does is fly around wasting propellant. I don’t actually know how much nitrogen’s in those packs but I just don’t see an astronaut using that much of it up in such a short time and then whining 2 seconds later about how he’s only got a couple of shots left and he’s in a life or death situation.
The Infamous Missile Strike
Next item: this missile strike BS. So a Russian spy sat goes bad and the Russians decide to blow it up. I’m fine with that. What I’m not fine with is this crazy story that comes out of it. Oh damn, some of the debris hit another satellite and that debris hit another and now all the satellites are gone and we’ve got a super debris cloud travelling faster than a bullet around the Earth and it’s going to chew you up ever 90 minutes. No, no and no. Are we supposed to believe this? There are satellites all around us in different planes and different altitudes. There are also regular meteorite strikes on the Earth that could hit a satellite and cause debris. There’s also the law of conservation of energy that says you can’t start with a few pieces of debris moving at a given speed and end up with billions of pieces travelling at the same or greater speed. This scenario kind of reminds me of the magic loogey from Seinfeld that takes an impossible path hitting things at angles that it shouldn’t be able to. It was funny then. It’s just stupid now. Let’s move on.
So the shuttle gets hit of course and starts spinning with Bullock attached to the CanadArm, which itself becomes severed and sends Bullock with it, spinning out of control. Then Clooney starts barking at her to detach. May I ask why? His stupid explanation at the time is that she has to detach or pretty soon he won’t be able to see her. Ok, ok, let me understand this. You want a tiny astronaut to detach from a large white stick because that’ll make her easy to see? Also, physics, again. Conservation of momentum, again. If you detach a small mass from a large spinning mass, the small one is going to retain some of that rotation and because it’s got less angular inertia, it’s going to spin even faster. So the mission commander is telling the noobie to detach from the big slow-moving white thing so that she can fly off in a new direction and tumble even faster?
Some time passes, they lose radio contact, they regain radio contact and Clooney opens his mouth again and more gahhbage comes out. He tells her to flash her light so he can see her. Not 2 seconds after she does, he’s like “Oh there you are”. Anyone who’s looked up at the sky at night knows how big it is and that’s only the half you can see cuz the Earth’s in the way. Up in space you’ve got 360 spherical degrees of sky and some little pen light is going to pinpoint her location in 2 seconds? By the way, did anyone else notice the nice bright lights mounted to her helmet? I think I’ve beaten this one to death. Don’t worry, it only gets worse from here.
Falling... In Space. More Like FAILING... In Space.
God, so many things wrong with this next one. After fleeing to the International Space Station, and because Mr. Cowboy commander used up all his fuel, he and Bullock basically bang into it at high speed because they can’t stop themselves. They struggle to grab onto something and when Bullock finally does, it’s with her foot and it’s a part of the Soyuz’s parachute lines. Then she manages to grab Clooney by a piece of his tether and the strangest thing happens. We have the same moment we did at the beginning of the movie, Vertical Limit. For some unexplained reason, Clooney is “falling” and must commit suicide by letting go of his tether and float away into space in order to save Bullock. I know they were going for the whole selfless heroism thing but hello! You’re in space. Why is he falling? Why is there constant tension on the tether AND why does the tension go away when he lets go? I don’t even know where to start ripping this apart because it’s fundamentally wrong on so many levels. The best excuse I can make for the people who made this film is that they were trying to show that the station was either accelerating or decelerating, perhaps from aerodynamic drag but then there would still be tension on the cable after Clooney lets go. Even a 2 year old would raise an eyebrow at such stupidity….. OH YEAH… and he’s falling parallel to the Earth. Next!
Bullock opens an airlock door like an idiot and holds on like the Hulk. Next!
Here we have Bullock blasting away the Soyuz RCS jets in an attempt to steady the ship before it hits the ISS and then moments later she tries to fire the main engine but for some reason there’s no fuel. Oops. Let’s ignore that for now and ask ourselves why she chose to stay and die rather than use the perfectly good RCS jets to make the small commute to the next space station. I mean she ends up using “soft landing jets” which aren’t very powerful so why not just use the RCS in the first place? It would have been just fine if we’re to believe the Chinese station is as close as they make it out to be.
How High Are They?
Now seems like a good time to go off on a tangent and draw everyone’s attention to the first screen of the movie. Here they state the astronauts are at 600 km altitude. Sooo, the Hubble, the ISS and the Chinese Space station are all at 600 km and they’re all spitting distance away from each other? And if that’s the case, why does the Chinese space station burn up at the end of the movie? If you’ve watched Apollo 13 (and I trust that movie a hell of a lot more than this one), you’ll know that re-entry interface is at about 400000 feet or 133 km. That’s a far cry from 600 km. Something doesn’t add up. And why is the station re-entering the atmosphere? It obviously didn’t get pelted with satellite debris so what’s it doing so low to the Earth? Fail… FAIL.
Pretty Good Aim... A Little Too Good.
Anyway Bullock does some master Russian hacking and gets the soft landing jets working and she’s on her way again. Because she’s on a 1-way trajectory and can’t stop (again), she does some crazy manoeuvre where she eyeballs when she’s got to shoot herself out of the Soyuz in order to intercept the space station. This is like jumping out of a car at 100 MPH off of 1 freeway and landing on a car going the other way on a different freeway 200 feet below but she’s Sandra Bollocks so I guess it’s fine. She uses here fire extinguisher with expert precision to steer herself and make contact and then, once again she goes and opens the door like a champ! Could anyone hang on if they were flung that hard, without breaking an arm? I know I couldn’t.
So That's How Astronauts Come Home... And Here I Thought it Was Hard.
Finally we have the piece de resistance. Bullock re-enters the atmosphere while attached to a decomposing, flaming space station, which is flinging debris all over the place. No course correction, no adjusted re-entry angle, just a capsule getting pelted with flak from every direction, facing the wrong way half the time until she finally jettisons the other 2/3 of the Soyuz and the capsule rights itself. By that time I wouldn’t put money on the heat shield being intact but let’s let that one slide. Then she makes a perfect landing, in water but only a few feet from land! Seriously they really pushed the envelope with the suspension of disbelief thing. Then I laughed my ass off, which was a good way to end the movie because there’s a fire in the capsule and the first thing Bullock thinks to do is remove her helmet so she can breath the “fresh” soot-filled air. Then she opens the hatch without deploying the flotation system and floods the capsule. That’s not a flaw in the movie, it’s just funny.
The movie ends with some triumphant music and a nice view of Sandra Buttocks.
Not the Best Movie for a Student Studying for His Physics Exam
As I said before, not a bad film. It was certainly entertaining enough, what with all the explosions and technological stuff. I just think they had Ren and Stimpy providing all the scientific and technical advice. I could have let all that slide if the dramatic sub-plot was more... dramatic but since it wasn't I was paying more attention to all the technical details and sadly they just fell short and broke my immersion in the film. Better luck next time I guess.