On average summer days, aviation enthusiasts flock from around the world to Washington’s National Air Space Museum. In the middle of the world’s great aeronautical treasures, the Smithsonian has erected an IMAX theater to garner revenue from the masses of visitors who come to gaze at the Wright Brothers’ plane. The movie that is often shown is “Blue Planet” taken from Shuttle missions. “Blue Planet” from all the advertisements portrays outer space as a very tranquil place.
The soon-to-be-released IMAX filme “Gravity” is hardly simpatico to “Blue Planet.” “Gravity” on the other hand gives the moviegoer the ill fated looming disaster of “Flight” with Denzel Washington, the space stations of 2001 without the symmetrical movements or the talking computer “Hal,” and another disaster Sandra Bullock has to think her way out of.
The ominous catastrophe is described in the first few flashes on the screen. “At 372 miles above earth, there is nothing to carry sound, no air pressure, no oxygen – Life in space is impossible” That impossibility is what George Clooney and Sandra Bullock must work around.
Unsuspecting Scientists Versus Space Junk
The scene is set on an average NASA shuttle mission. Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, depicted as a Lake Zurich, Illinois native, was selected for a mission to repair the Hubble Telescope. Bullock’s character apparently has expertise in the medical field to fix a certain aspect of the malfunctioning space telescope. Meanwhile, as the repair effort is in progress, the Russians have launched a missile into space which has strewn debris all over the place and space junk makes basic habitability more impossible than the opening of the movie suggests.
Unlike in Apollo 13 where astronauts radioed earth with the famous line “Houston we have a problem,” in the “Gravity movie” the syntax is different. Clooney and Bullock soon realize they have a problem with Houston’s calculations, and the calamity is coming sooner than they thought. Clooney in fact realized much sooner than Mission control did, when he said, “I have a bad feeling about this” and then laughing it off by comparing it with a bad experience at a New Orleans Mardi Gras.
Although this is a fictional movie, the problem of space junk is a very very real problem. According to Space.com “At the moment, NASA officials estimate that about 500,000 pieces of debris larger than a marble orbit the planet. There are 22,000 bits of junk as big as a softball, and there could be more than 100 million tiny fragments at least 1 millimeter across racing around Earth.” And every one of those little bits can cause the same type of damage that was exacted on Clooney and Bullock’s shuttle craft.
A Clunker In Space
As promised in the trailer, the shuttle is destroyed by the oncoming debris, and everyone else on board is dead except for Clooney and Bullock. Bullock is running out of oxygen and spinning in space. Clooney has an advantage over Bullock in the sense that his spacepak has jet propulsion. He tethers Bullock and they concoct a daring plan to head to a Russian space station only to discover that its crew has abandoned the ship in light of the same set of tragic circumstances, leaving behind a pod that is at the expected substandard level of a Soviet made craft.
In the meantime, what can you expect George Clooney to do with Sandra Bullock, even as oxygen is being exhausted from their tanks? Clooney pries the life story out of Bullock and we hear that she is beating herself up about her long lost daughter, and Clooney makes his move on Bullock.
But Clooney does the gentlemanly thing, at the Russian space station. He tells Bullock to continue on without him. With or without the vodka, the Russian Space station is not the Hilton Hotel for Dr. Stone as a fire begins to envelop the station as she must read Russian manuals and leave for the Chinese station, which fortuitously happens to be somewhat reachable. We discover Bullock has flown the Russian escape pod in a simulator but crashed it every time, because she was focused on being a doctor.
Wild Ride To Terra Firma
If the viewer is expecting Houston to help Bullock out as she thinks through her survival, think again. The radio communication is so bad that all she hears is a baby crying, presumably in China and that triggers the self loathing thoughts about her daughter again. It also triggers resolution in our protagonist – that it is time to go home.
The way home in the movie “Gravity” is a wild ride to terra firma. Whether or not critics find it to be the commanding performance of Bullock’s career, the IMAX cinematography makes you feel the roundness of the astronaut’s helmet.
The good news is that the whole family can probably enjoy the out-of-this-world motion picture. The better news comes when Bullock discovers that she hates space, but has a renewed respect for life on the third rock from the sun.
To see the trailer of Gravity: