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Wednesday, 20 November 2013


I haven't seen Europa Report, but I'll guess the mishap alluded to is a failure of the AE-35 module.


Hi, nice write up and very well written.
I wouldn't agree with the character developement bit though. As you said, its a thriller, and good that it makes you run from the word go. In this case, they have actually built the characters by way of conversation between the two. What you don't get to see and just get a hint of, moves you even more. Sometimes the movies just don't take off for a good half an hour because, they sort of built the characters, in this case, let's say, had they chosen to show how the characters lived on earth, and how they went about their mission.

_Moon_ is a good sci-fi mystery, too.

It's science flaw is that the moon gravity isn't simulated in the habitat.

But it has real model work instead of cgi!

Haven't seen 'Europa' yet, but now I hope to. And I agree entirely about gravity; technically flawed though visually elegant, and w/ such weak character development that I described it as 'Bullock reprises her bus-driver role in 'Speed'.

I found Europa Report (which I really wanted to like) sorely lacking in: suspense, special effects and acting chops. A much better low budget, sci-fi space alternative is Moon from a couple of years back- low budget done well, with maximum imagination.

Gravity was one helluva roll a coaster ride! No complaints at all, whatsoever. And not only did it effectively demonstrate just how spectacular and dangerous space really is- it also implied just how taxing all their training must be...

I too saw Gravity in 3D IMAX, and it was well worth the extra ticket price. Generally I’m not a fan of 3D but for this film I make an exception.

Regarding the character development, I wonder if the lack of it was a deliberate choice based on the idea that we, the viewers, are supposed to put ourselves in the shoes of the characters and to wonder how we would feel and what we would do. You could argue that any good piece of fiction uses this device, but in this case I think it was more deliberate than usual. Having only two characters, with the focus very much on one of them, and there being few distractions from the core problem, I found myself very empathetic to the situation and very much in the shoes (or space suit) of the main character.

There are films that unfold on a screen 60 feet in front of you, and there are films that unfold in your head. This one was in the latter category for me (the 3D helped), and I’m sure that was the intention of the director. Adding ten minutes of character background might have interfered with that.

I'd been waiting for Gravity for literally 4 years when I saw it. The project was announced ages ago and encountered a number of delays (including the wise decision in 2012 to delay the film a full year to do a 3d conversion). Cuaron's Children of Men is my favorite film of the last ten years if not ever, and Emmanuel Lubezki is my favorite cinematographer (and given that I'm a cinematographer, that's way more than enough to get me through the door).

One of Gravity's strengths is its use of uninterrupted takes. The 90-ish minute movie opens with a longer-than-15-minute take, spending a sixth of the running time of the movie in one "shot" (quotation marks because it is of course a stitch of several shots; that's not important because we perceive it as a single, uninterrupted shot). The benefit of this technique, as in Children of Men, is that it makes the unreal frighteningly believable. We're all well accustomed to science fiction that cuts around both its effects and its environments, in part hiding the limited scope of the created world. Cuaron, instead, immerses us in that world, and by giving us an uninterrupted perspective for 15 minutes lends verisimilitude to the otherwise-fantastic goings on onscreen.

This isn't casual of coincidental. Gravity has scenes that involve a fair amount of cutting... scenes that consist of dialogue between Clooney and Bullock, for example, or scenes seated at a control panel, with cuts in for closeups of the buttons being struck. Basically scenes where nothing remarkable or farfetched is happening. But without exception that I could detect, when things get actiony, and when most films would embrace the tendency to cut the most, Gravity forces you to remain in the nightmare. Amazingly effective filmmaking.

I remarked to friends just before it came out that if Gravity sucked it would destroy me; I'd simply been anticipating it too strongly for too long. It didn't pass Children of Men for me, but given the nature of the story and the scope of the film I didn't expect it to. It did, however, make me very happy. I saw it three times in the theater, and couldn't help but see it in IMAX 3D each time. It's an essential experience for anyone who hasn't yet caught up.

I loved "Europa Report" and didn't like "Gravity." I was able to forgive the former its realism problems (which include a another real howler in addition to the problems with the central technical malfunction), while the realism problems in latter (which extend to a number of domains beyond the preposterous orbital mechanics) ruined the movie for me. Since I appear to be the only human on or off Earth who didn't like "Gravity," I think my expectations for it may have been way too high going in.

Beside the orbital thing, there was one other very obvious flaw in Gravity, being the way (trying not to spoil there) in which Clooney, in a key moment, is immobile relative to a station yet when cut loose "falls" away. Such a shame to so blatantly disregard physics when most other details had been gotten so right.

Speaking of movies about space missions going seriously wrong, there is a movie on one of the cable channels “The Challenger Disaster” with William Hurt playing Richard Feynman, on the Science Channel and the Discovery Channel
that is just amazing. I had read Feynman's account in his book '"What Do You Care What Other People Think?": Further Adventures of a Curious Character' but it turns out that it's one of those stories that can only be told after some of the characters are dead, and is somewhat different than Feynman was able to reveal at the time.
It's downloadable on Amazon and probably other places.

Oh and Gravity was really good, the best music written for a space movie ever. (I've never heard Alex North's "2001: A Space Odyssey" soundtrack, but if it wan't good enough for Kubrick)

Thanks for the recommendations. I too have just seen Gravity, and based on the newspaper review saw it in near-IMAX, in 3D. IMO, it's the best use of 3D in a film so far. But if anyone is thinking of watching it, the biggest, best 3D screen you can find is the only way forward. It won't work nearly as well on TV, even in 3D. As a physics graduate, the orbital mechanics were the only bit which jarred, but sometimes you have to willingly suspend disbelief.

I'll get see the other when it's released on DVD.

Thanks Ctein!

"Both directors are from south of the border (Mexico and Ecuador respectively)"

To some people, they're from north of the border, or from across the ocean.

[Yes, and to aliens they're Earthlings, and to ants they're giants. Shall we go on? --Mike]

Those of you who enjoyed Gravity, will want to see the compaion short film which was released: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/11/20/gravity-companion-film-shows-the-other-side-of-sandra-bullocks-distress-call-watch-here/

You can sense the isolation they are both facing and the frailty of life, on many levels. It's concise and well crafted.

+1000 Will, those long takes in Gravity were delicious. They held you in suspense, holding your breathe, just waiting and waiting as time ticked by. Cinematography at its very best.

Dear Will,

I am very fond of Children of Men (although it's by no means my favorite film) and it makes me very interested in seeing what Cuaron does next. He's made two different and imaginative films. Can he keep it up, or will he turn into another M. Night Shyamalan (so much promise, so not fulfilled)?

The seamless long takes in CoM are brilliant and absolutely caught my attention. They're utterly convincing and totally compelling, at the same time I know they're impossible.I think it's the most noteworthy element in an entirely worthy film.

But... I hadn't realize how effectively the same techniques were used in Gravity until you pointed it out. You're absolutely right, of course! What's impressive is that that seamlessness is so appropriate to space that I wasn't even aware it was there. Wow, that's something.

pax / Ctein

Gravity was just fine in 2D, for those of you who find that 3D gives you headaches, like it does me.

In 1967 while on a pass from Fort Devens I wandered in to the Boston Cinerama to see 2001. In my 18 year old clueless state I thought it was a Stanley Kramer movie. I wasn't quite sure what the director of "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was going to do in outer space but what the heck.
I stumbled out with my head spinning and a new found respect for Stanley Kubrick.
I am going to try to see Gravity on a local IMAX 3D screen this weekend, hoping for similiar results.
Last night I Netflixed "Eurpoa Report" and it is terrific. Thanks for the tip. Europa is a great subject for a Sci Fi piece. Charles Sheffield wrote a nice story about poking around under the ice and of course Arthur C Clarke did warn us off it in the sequel to 2001.

I saw Europa Report on your recommendation, and I got thrown off hard from the very beginning, when the film re-iterates about a dozen times that this would be 'mankinds first exploration into Deep Space' - obviously, the filmmakers dont care enough about 'realism' that they would look up a term like 'Deep Space' before spouting it so many times.

As another commenter mentioned, the George Clooney 'falling away' scene was the one that technical flaw in Gravity that was really hard for me to ignore. I think that in such a pivotal moment of the film, a blatant interruption of the laws of physics (in a movie called 'Gravity') really brought the whole thing down a notch or two. I was surprised not to have seen it discussed more online. Still, the whole movie was worth it for the opening shot alone, that was magnificent.

I'm looking forward to seeing Europa Report, thanks for the review, Ctein!

Dear Dave & Alexandre,

It's established from the setup for that situation and the dialog that Bullock and Clooney are not stationary with respect to the station, which is why there's a problem. I think it's photography error. It creates an incorrect illusion due to with the camera angle combined with the PoV being centered on the two of them. I noticed it both times I saw it.

So, my viewing of it was the physics is OK, but the photography was flawed (maybe the only time in the movie).

That's my take on it, anyway, and I don't think we can discuss it in more detail without spoilers.

I believe that's why you haven't seen this "error" discussed more online.

pax / Ctein

OK, just watched Europa Report. Now, I wanna read Ctein's explanation of why the first problem could never be a problem in a real space flight.

Dear Mathias,

Ummm, "deep space" refers to anything beyond the earth system. They were using the term correctly.

pax / Ctein

Dear Arthur,

If you want to email me privately, I'll be happy to explain, but there' s no way I can do it here without spoilers.

pax / Ctein

Dear Ctein, I've always reserved the term Deep Space for anything beyond our solar system. The space from 100km up and just beyond Earths gravitational field I just refer to as 'Space'. But I'm ready to alter my world views, and contract my thrown offness. I may have to see the whole movie again.

I was pumped to see "Gravity", since "Children of Men" is a great film, packed with strong acting, virtuoso cinematography that doesn't call attention to itself, unorthodox changes in tempo and mood, and a plot you cannot predict. This film is the opposite, full of cheap sentiment, overlaid with a bombastic soundtrack, and fixated on cheap action thrills. The 3D makes everything look like there's a layer of smoke between us and the action. Very disappointing.

On the other hand the obvious physics errors didn't bother me much. Dramatic license and all that.

"But I'll bet anything that he also considered ending the movie after the last bit of spoken dialogue. That works, too!

Looking back, the ambiguity at that point would have made it an even better movie.

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