Gravity (2013)

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*. It’s often been said that movies are as much a business as they are an art. This is something no critic should lose sight of. I would, however, make it a triumvirate. Movies are an art, a business, and a technology, in roughly equal measure.
*. It follows that successful filmmakers are either great artists, shrewd businessmen, excellent engineers, or some combination of all of the above.
*. You’ll have guessed where I’m going with this. Gravity was one of the more critically-acclaimed movies of 2013 and went on to win seven Academy Awards. These were mainly for its technical achievements, which were inventive and ground-breaking. Trophies were handed out for Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Score (Steven Price). In other words, it looks and sounds great.
*. Alfonso Cuarón is the kind of director I think of as an engineer. Other Oscar-winning engineers include James Cameron and Peter Jackson. Those with longer memories may think back to Victor Fleming. These are the guys you want helming your mega-budget blockbusters because they know how to get all their ducks in a row.
*. I’m not putting these directors down or pigeon-holing them, but just saying that this is the kind of thing they do really well. More to the point here, this is the kind of movie Gravity is. It spent a lot of money on effects, and it spent that money well. As noted, it looks and sounds great. But . . .

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*. But that’s it. They spent $100 million on a ten-cent script. Of course this has been a successful formula for Hollywood for years. And Gravity took in over $700 million in box office, so who cared if it was about two of the dullest characters you could imagine floating around in space as one thing after another goes terribly wrong? You weren’t really meant to care about Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) or Dr. Smooth (George Clooney).
*. Personally, I think it would have made for a more compelling movie if they hadn’t given the two leads any back story and just made them pure professionals. But in any event, they’re not what the movie’s about. You’re here to gaze in wonder at the magnificent view of the sun rising over the Sinai, and gape at things flying at you in 3-D.
*. I like how it attracted so much intelligent commentary. Critics (amateur and professional) had a field day arguing over how realistic it was. Apparently the whole business of the orbiting space debris is way off. The only part that bothered me was when Clooney let go to save Bullock, since I didn’t see how he would have been dragging her down anyway, but this point has been argued back and forth by people who know a lot more about it than I do.
*. Sure, it’s entertaining in a rollercoaster-ride sort of way. But the best film of the year? I can’t think of any reason I’d watch it again. In the future, I think computers might be able to make movies like this. And I’m afraid they may make them just as well.

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