I’m a born and bred space nerd, so any movie that tells me a story I don’t already know about NASA’s golden age already has me at hello. Hidden Figures wasn’t as good a film as it was hyped to be, but that doesn’t mean it still wasn’t a great story told exceptionally well with a fantastic ensemble. It’s a both sad and practical problem that there have been so many films about discrimination that it’s sometimes hard to hammer home the vicious indignity of it without borrowing from previous efforts.
What Hidden Figures did so well was to take an everyday reality for every person on the planet-using the restroom-and make it the film’s most poignant moment of the maddening unfairness of segregation. Kevin Costner and Taraji Henson both give fantastic performances in this film, and Henson’s quiet character finally losing her mind over the ridiculousness of having to run 30 minutes to find a “colored restroom” is a wonderfully written and performed monologue. Costner’s response has a lot fewer words in it, but then he got to do his talking with a crowbar.
The difficulty I have in reviewing Gravity isn’t that I don’t have anything to say about it or that I don’t have a strong feeling about it. I just don’t want to tell you anything. You quite honestly just need to go; know as little as possible, see it in IMAX 3D if at all possible (I don’t recommend that often) and experience it. Gravity is so immersive, so encapsulating that you feel like you’re in space with the astronauts played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. At times this will be stunningly beautiful, staring at the Northern Lights from orbit. At times you’ll be disoriented and maybe even claustrophobic. You most likely will be extremely tense throughout most of the movie’s 1.5 hour running time. My body was a clenched fist throughout most of the film. This movie needs to be seen in the theater. I can’t imagine it having its full effect at home. That’s no knock on the movie, by the way, more of a knock on your home. It’s insufficient.
What I can and will say, and I’ll talk in the comments with people who do see it, is that it’s a masterpiece. Alfonso Cuaron has done something with this film in terms of an engaging, painstakingly realistic cinematic experience that I don’t think can be compared to any other movie I’ve ever seen. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are outstanding; normally I don’t care for Bullock but her performance in this movie is remarkable.
Official Plot Synopsis:
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone–tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
There was a long period in my life when I wanted to be an astronaut. My grandfather worked on the Gemini Program, and I could imagine nothing cooler than the only true exploration left to us. However, then I discovered NASA has a height restriction and demands some kind of adequate math and science skills (not my strongest areas). But I have remained a space geek and historian of NASA’s efforts to explore the cosmos.
Apollo 13 was my favorite non-Star Wars movie for a long, long time (still in the top 5). It, and the amazing HBO mini From the Earth to the Moon, chronicle the amazing efforts of NASA in the 1950’s to 1970’s to pioneer manned spaceflight. We’ve lost the Challenger. We’ve lost the Columbia. Before that, though, it was all but certain that we were going to lose Apollo 13. It’s a story of a group of brilliant people tackling an impossible problem and finding a solution against every possible obstacle. It’s a triumph of the human spirit and not at all a failed mission. Getting Apollo 13 home was every bit as an accomplishment as landing on the moon.
It all starts with the problem that has become an iconic cinema catchphrase, “Houston, we have a problem.” Shortly after a national broadcast, Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert were doing routine maintenance; part of which was to stir the oxygen tanks. What happens next, both in the spacecraft and in the control room under the direction of Gene Kranz is gripping film, but if you listen to the mission tapes, the calm problem solving determination the film shows is even more matter-of-fact in real life. These men were explorers, pilots, and geniuses of the highest order.
We live in tough economic times. That’s the understatement of the century. NASA has seen its funding cut and cut to the point where they can’t send safe spacecraft up any more. If you want to go into space, you’re going to have to take your chances in a Soyuz Russian “shuttle” and have fun with that. Why explore? Why pour money into, say, building a moon base or going to mars? Because it’s what we do. We saw a hill and we climbed it. We saw mountains and we scaled them. We saw vast expanses of water and sailed into the unknown. Humanity was meant to explore. And from a purely economic standpoint, setting a goal that cannot currently be achieved by the technological means available forces innovation. The calculator, the microwave and-to a large extent-the PC all came about because of technology developed for space travel. We’re all so downtrodden now. It’s a horrible time. We need a dream. Not “hope for change”, but a real goal. Cure cancer in ten years. Eliminate fossil fuel emitting vehicles by 2025. Go to Mars. We’re crafted to do great things and we’re stagnating as a species. This is my favorite scene from a movie that shows a generation that had no limits on their imagination.