George Clooney is probably the most consistently artistically adventurous mainstream Hollywood star and his new film Gravity takes him in a pleasingly unpredictable direction writes Liam Mac Uaid. Only two characters appear on screen and his co-star Sandra Bullock is the centre of attention for most of the ninety minutes.
Viewed in 3D it’s a film quite unlike anything you’ll have seen before. Dr Ryan Stone, played by Bullock is fitting some new gizmo to the Hubble telescope and Clooney’s Matt Kowalski (a nod to the 1971 film Vanishing Point) is her pilot on the space shuttle. The clumsy Russians blow up one of their own satellites and our heroes’ ride home is destroyed in a hail of 25,000 mph space debris. Stone and Kowalski are obliged to make their way through the vacuum of space to a nearby Russian space station. They arrive there and it’s no longer serviceable so they then have to cross one hundred miles of emptiness to get to a Chinese craft. This is gripping, intense cinema and shows that 3D cinema can be a uniquely immersive and exhilarating experience.
If the director and script writer had limited their focus to the terror of being alone in a vacuum fighting to stay alive it would have been a far superior film. They didn’t. Instead they had to give us a dismally conventional Hollywood back story. Stone’s young daughter had died in a playground accident. This should be about as relevant to the plot of a film like this as her having grown the rhubarb than won first prize in a Wigan gardening festival. In this case though it’s used to squeeze in a torrent of lachrymose droning about how she wished she’d been taught to pray. In one buttock clenching scene she addresses Kowalski and tells him if he sees a brown haired four year old in Heaven to pass on the message that mummy has found her red shoe.
What begins as a film about facing death in space is unrelentingly a film about finding God for the last thirty minutes, a point hammered home by Bullock’s explosive “thank you” in one of the final scenes and imagery reminiscent of a Garden of Eden. We’re asked to believe that a scientist and lifelong atheist suddenly intuits a transcendent god when she’s worried about running out of oxygen and being shredded by bits of spaceship. Even the music changes to illustrate the contrast in her mental state from dark, alienating electronica to ultra-conventional Hollywood orchestral.
It’s a peculiar amalgam of genre defining innovation and unsubtle religious proselytising. Maybe that’s what Clooney was after. So if you don’t mind getting a little bit cross with all the god stuff and want to get the closest you’re likely to come to drifting helplessly in space it’s worth seeing. Whether or not it’ll be worth watching on DVD is a moot point.