Is it just me? ... Or is Gravity overrated?

In our regular polarising-opinion series, one Total Film writer discusses whether or not Alfonso Cuarón’s space epic was worthy of the hype and awards.

Read on, and let us know if you agree with the argument put forward by having your say in the comments section below.

Is it just me? Or is Gravity overrated? asks Kevin Harley

Last year was a good one for survivalist cinema, but the standout entry was clear. It had fear, focus, firm characterisation… and an icon afloat. But enough about All Is Lost: the issue here is whether Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is all that it could have been.

In some respects, sure. Just ask George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski, getting in fast with his job of spelling stuff out for us: “Gotta admit one thing. Can’t beat the view.” Gravity hefts the bar of spectacle so high, you get dizzy looking up. 3D doubters swooned to Cuarón’s airborne ballet; surrender to its spin cycle in IMAX and you may need help figuring out which way is up, which way is down and how exactly a frog got into the cinema.

Critics certainly lost their balance. “Transcendent!” gushed Forbes. “It’s more than a movie,” evangelised Rolling Stone, “It’s some kind of miracle.” Skip the biblical worship and there is no doubting Gravity’s technical achievement, or its play with audience orientation, or the capacity of its stuff-flung-at-you 3D (it’s practically debris-porn) to stir.

You need courage to brave it in IMAX, but Gravity lacks the courage of its survivalist convictions. For a film that strives to evoke the lonely majesty of space through the story of a woman who enjoys the silence, it prattles too much. Failing to trust his audience’s patience or intelligence, Cuarón mobilises Clooney to steer our responses: “Ryan, you’re gonna have to learn to let go,” goes one clunker.

Clooney’s hand-holding role feels like a failure of nerve for a film that aspires to ditch cinema’s usual anchors of assurance. But the thing Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone needs to let go of is Cuarón’s biggest stumble: her daughter’s death plays as crassly manipulative emotional shorthand. Some of the imagery is less subtle still. Didn’t spot the rebirth theme? Here’s Ryan in a foetal position for you.

The bit where Matt’s ghost pops by Ryan’s pod to provide a revivifying snifter is even clumsier: did Cuarón and his son Jonás’ script-writing programme issue its Insert Emotional Button-Pusher edict here, or what? “Your kid died. Doesn’t get any rougher than that,” philosophises Kowalski, in case we thought Ryan was cool about it because it freed her up to do space stuff.

As Ryan says, “You gotta be kidding me.” That disbelief lingers as she navigates between suspiciously conveniently placed space stations, then manages to suss out Chinese and Russian manuals like she’s charging a Kindle.

In one sense, these shortcuts are helpful: the resulting concision is admirable. On a re-watch, the concision looks under-nourished and indicative of a failure to nail the tricky business of suspense. Here, carefully plotted tension surrenders to transparently apportioned set-pieces.

The result is a ride, essentially: the sublime offered up as theme-park thrills. (“One helluva ride,” the script asserts, still in spelling-stuff-out mode.) That’s fine, to a point. But it’s also a frustrating plummet to Earth from a film that seems to promise the stars. Or is it just me?

Agree or disagree with Kevin's argument? Hit the comment section to air your view now!

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