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Beam us down, Scotty

2013-10-11T00:24:00Z 2013-10-11T00:25:57Z Beam us down, ScottyBy BRENT NORTHUP Film Review Helena Independent Record
October 11, 2013 12:24 am  • 

If you already saw Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” on the XD screen at the Cinemark, consider yourself lucky. Seeing this film on that screen is well worth the $3 surchage.

Unfortunately, Cinemark is showing a new film in that luxury inner space, rather than letting the force of “Gravity” continue to pull us towards — and into — outer space.

“Gravity” is a captivating science fiction fable about two astronauts who are literally lost in space. A series of technical disasters destroy their mother ship, leaving our heroes literally floating in the void, searching for a solution.

Fortunately, even though they can’t hear themselves scream, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are not truly alone. Space is a sort of high-rise parking lot littered with high-priced vehicles — satellites, space stations and lots of debris.

But are any of these “vehicles” within reach? Inhabitable? Useful?

Our friends fear they will spend their dying days floating around the earth, becoming a new curiosity in the Big Sky night sky: “Look, darling, up there next to Venus: there goes a new star, George Clooney.”

This tense adventure is not to be spoiled but to be experienced.

“Gravity” is bound to be compared to other science fiction epics.

Two films on the top shelf in my sci-fi hall of out-fame are Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” and Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris.”

In my mind, “Gravity” is not in a league with either of those masterpieces, but thanks to Cuaron’s artful direction it’s a must-see for serious film buffs. The story is visual poetry accompanied by tense fights for life.

Most of the film was crafted using computers, making the achievement even more impressive.

Structurally, the plot isn’t much different from having Tom Hanks and his soccer ball, Wilson lost on an island or having Aron Ralston pinned between a rock and a hard place in Utah’s canyon country. In all cases, getting home is the sole goal.

By contrast, both “2001” and “Solaris” have deeper cerebral intent. Arthur C. Clarke was a brilliant writer whose books were scientifically ahead of their times. Stanislaw Lem, who wrote the book “Solaris,” was a Polish philosophical sci-fi writer.

Like Isaac Asimov and Olaf Stapledon, Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury, their writings had layers of philosophical intrigue that gave rise to long conversations afterwards.

By contrast, “Gravity” is sci-fi lite – tastes good but less filling.

But just when we’re longing for content, the poetry begins. Cuaron knows how to use silence and haunting visuals to build tension. And when our heroes smash into the walls of a space station, we grab the arms of our chairs, hoping to help them hold on. (I did, in fact, do that.)

The weaknesses of “Gravity” include 30 minutes of fluffy Sandra, playing a helpless submissive female Astronaut hoping her “man” will save her. But then, fortunately, Sandra bucks up and turns into a strong hero who needs nobody’s help.

The second flaw is only a flaw if we insist that “Gravity” tell a scientifically smart story. The ending is a preposterous fantasy, but it’s told with a wink, inviting us to just come along for the space ride.

Having decided about half way through “Gravity” that this was part space poem and part space opera, I found the ending as lovely as Dorothy’s return to Kansas.

The final weakness is what will keep “Gravity” from masterpiece status: Cuaron clearly makes commercial compromises – in casting and in storytelling – that separate him from Arthur C. Clarke and company. Clooney and particularly Bullock were not the best possible choices. Jessica Chastain or Noomi Rapace (“Dragon Tattoo”) would have deepened this tale considerably.

But these are critical quibbles with an exceptional movie by a master director in total control of his craft. I just sat back in the high-backed seat at the Cinemark XD and enjoyed floating in space – and I clapped in appreciation when the credits rolled, even though I knew my claps might not be heard out here in the void.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Marga Lincoln covers entertainment news for the Independent Record. Send story ideas for YourTime to irarts@helenair.com, or please call 447-4083 or 447-4074. Follow Marga at @IR_MargaLincoln.

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