Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is the best looking B-movie you’ll ever see, but a B-movie nonetheless.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Gravity is a spectacular film, in the truest sense of the word ‘spectacle’. It is a feast for the eyes, an hour and half of the most sumptuous visuals you’ve ever seen. Gravity takes the technological advances made by Avatar and buries it with them. This is the first film to fully utilise 3D in a way that is unobtrusive and actually achieves what James Cameron originally set out to create: an immersive experience.
Aside from the monumental technical achievements, Gravity is one of the most intense films of the year
Aside from the monumental technical achievements, Gravity is one of the most intense films of the year, even more so than the powerful Captain Phillips or the dark, brooding Prisoners. The perilous scenes of interstellar catastrophe are breathtaking and completely vanquish even the vaguest fantasy of one day stepping outside our atmosphere. “Life in space”, the film notes, “is impossible.” Gravity leaves you in no doubt as to the validity of that statement.
This sets up the film’s central philosophical idea: life in space is indeed impossible, but ‘space’ does not mean the boundless vacuum in which the stars and planets exist. ‘Space’ is the boundless vacuum in which love, companionship and self-worth do not exist. Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan has no partner, no family, no tangible reason to be. She works all day at a hospital then drives around at night. She is cruising through the void – life in space is impossible, and Ryan merely exists in space.
Space is an excellent vehicle for metaphor; it is infinite, lifeless and hostile, these qualities lending themselves to any number of metaphysical quandaries. It is a shame, therefore, that Gravity chooses to smother its philosophy in such ripe, substandard dialogue and stock characterisation. At worst, it’s the most expensive, best-looking B-movie ever made.
Alfonso Cuarón, a storyteller of immense skill, was so preoccupied with the technical aspects of Gravity that the script suffered
Gravity follows all of the classic B-movie tropes – the old pro on his last mission paired with the rookie on her first, just enough personal issues to make us care, a moment of sacrifice, action, explosions, all wrapped up in a neat little 90-minute package. There’s nothing wrong with using the B-movie formula. Drive was basically a B-movie starring Ryan Gosling. However, you don’t notice the B-movie tropes in Drive because the dialogue is so well written, not in a zingy Aaron Sorkin way but in a functional, unnoticeable way. It lets the film get on with what it needs to do.
The same cannot be said of the dialogue in Gravity. It’s like a big, stupid dog – you can only ignore it for so long before you’ve had enough of it trying to occupy the same physical space as your legs. The spectacle and visual splendor are enough to distract you from the poor script, but the illusion starts to fall apart if you really listen to what’s being said. It leaves us with the uneasy feeling that Alfonso Cuarón, a storyteller of immense skill, was so preoccupied with the technical aspects of Gravity that he allowed the script to suffer.
Using a B-movie formula makes perfect sense for Gravity. It has one central conceit, that being ‘stuff going wrong in space’ and it does its best to entertain the blue bollocks off you, which it undeniably does. Gravity then, perhaps unwittingly, raises the question of cinema’s purpose. Is it to create engrossing stories with interesting characters or is it to wow us, to show us spectacle that we can only dream of? Gravity demonstrates that it is possible to have one without the other. It’s just a shame that it couldn’t have both. The blockbuster doesn’t have to be one or the other – consider Jurassic Park, a pioneering visual effects spectacular with an engrossing story that stands up on its own and dialogue that didn’t come from the bargain bin at HMV.
Gravity won’t work on the small screen. It’s just a vehicle for spectacle, a series of disasters, one after another
In an era where more and more people are streaming movies on their laptop, it should be a cause for celebration that Gravity is coaxing people out of their bedrooms and into the multiplexes. If there’s one film you have to see at a cinema, it’s Gravity, but the fact that it won’t work on the small screen tells us something about the quality of the story. It’s just a vehicle for spectacle, a series of disasters, one after another. Amazing, white-knuckle disasters, yes, but once you strip that all away you’re left with not much of anything. “But the spectacle is the point,” you say? Then that’s my point.
All images: Warner Bros