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Gravity is an effective film on an emotional level, with a superb performance by Sandra Bullock, but one that failed to suspend my disbelief on a technical level.

Despite the effectiveness of the emotional arc of the film, I was to some extent snickering at it inside.

Gravity begins with a shuttle mission to repair the Hubble space telescope by mission specialist Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock), whilst mission commander Lieutenant[1] Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is goofing off using a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). The mission is rapidly interrupted by a Kessler Syndrome event caused by a Russian missile strike on a disabled satellite[2].

From here the film heads into a series of action sequences, with very little breaks or recovery between.  Kowalski recovering Stone when she’s cast tumbling away from the shuttle, moving from the shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS) complete with Kowalski’s heroic sacrifice), Stone entering the ISS as her air runs out, Stone escaping from the ISS as it catches fire, Stone improvising a way to get a disabled Soyuz to the Chinese Tiangong station, Stone escaping the Tiangong in a Shenzou, Stone surviving re-entry, etc.

The problem here is that there is probably too much happening. Ron Howard and the makers of Apollo 13 omitted several details of the disaster because the film was already too overloaded to be credible. Gravity might have benefited from one or two less action sequences, and more contemplative time[3].

That said, the sequence where Stone has to confront the likelihood of her own death, and the fact that she has very little to actually live for is beautifully handled. This is in some respects the strongest part of the film, is well directed, and excellently performed by Sandra Bullock, and ably supported in a key moment by George Clooney.

The film’s intimacy is emphasised by having all other characters be effectively voices over the radio only, and this contrasts with the vistas of space to create the sense of deep loneliness that is a metaphor for Stone’s life.

Another concern is that some of the action sequences really required that Bullock’s character be a pilot rather than a mission specialist. It’s not a major point, but when I’m thinking that sequence X would be tough for an elite pilot, let alone a mission specialist that crashes the simulators[4], it jars that suspension of disbelief a little bit more.

Against that Gravity is visually spectacular, and sounds great.

Note that Grant Watson liked Gravity a whole lot more than I did, and he makes a number of valid points.

I suspect that most of my objections are based on the initial problems I had with the technical set up that I never quite got over noticing. Overall I think I liked Gravity for Sandra Bullock’s performance, but would really need to check my brain at the door to really enjoy the entire package on a rewatch. It probably will get a second run at some point.

[1] Possibly the first point where I started snickering. Commanding a shuttle mission is not a Lieutenant’s billet, nor does Clooney look young enough to be a convincing junior officer. Colonel Kowalski I could have believed.

[2] This is probably where I started snickering. I have trouble believing that the Russians would be stupid enough to risk the Kessler Syndrome given that space debris is a well-known problem.

[3] Noting that at 91 minutes Gravity is already a relatively short film by modern standards.

[4] A repeated comment by Stone to Kowalski.