Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)

What's it about? Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are carrying out work on a routine spacewalk when disaster strikes. With communications dead and their shuttle destroyed, they are left marooned in the emptiness of space. Can they save themselves?

Is it any good? There really is a wow factor to the special effects in Gravity. The illusion of weightlessness is astonishingly well done and, after a while, I stopped wondering how it was done and to all intents and purposes accepted it was 'real'. The visuals also benefit from having the Earth as a backdrop - few things look more impressive than a view of the Earth from space (watch out for those shots of the Nile region at night) and a couple of moments are used to good effect in 3D. Beyond the technical prowess, however, the film is more ordinary and the massive critical acclaim for it is slightly puzzling. It delivers well enough as a tense survival flick, although I wasn't pushed on Clooney's jokey character and there were a few forced moments of hokey dialogue. However, Bullock does good work to compensate for this, by turning in an emotional performance and by looking good in her pants. Of course, if she'd wanted to get down to Earth quicker she should have just tethered herself to the overbearing score, which weighs far too heavily on the big moments. All in all, a feast for the eyes, but not the ears.

I don't trust you. What do others think? Audiences and critics alike have fallen hard for it, with Oscar buzz a-building. Naturally, the visual effects have been the main talking point, although some have meekly observed that 2001: A Space Odyssey had similarly impressive visuals over 40 years ago. Of course, any number of experts have been lined up to confirm/refute the film's scientific authenticity. Here's an article in Time magazine about it and there's a video below from NASA consultants on the film. If you learn only one thing from this, it's not to describe the floating as "zero-gravity". For, as you will no doubt know, typical orbits for human space flight vary between 120 and 360 miles above Earth’s surface, where the G is very far from zero. If an astronaut on a space station drops a pen, it will fall just like on Earth. But it doesn’t look like it’s falling because the pen, the astronaut and the space station are falling together – not towards Earth but around it. Objects inside the station float because they’re all falling at the same rate. Got it? Good. Now you too can work a space station. Even a Chinese space station.

What does the Fonz think? Worth an entry, but not a re-entry.

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