Gravity (2013), or Dr. Stone and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Space Walk

OCTOBER 17 UPDATE:
A REVIEW OF THE REVIEWERS WHO REVIEWED MY REVIEW.

“Self-indulgent.”

“Self-important.”

“Bad… just bad.”

The reviews are in. No… not the reviews of Gravity. The reviews of my review of Gravity.

Funny thing, though. When I posted the review, I included all kinds of disclaimers.

Some complained that my review strayed from its subject. And yet, I made it clear in the opening paragraph that this was a blog post about more than just Gravity. It was about a trend in big-budget special effects movies.

Some called me a “hater.” I gave this movie a “C” on Rotten Tomatoes — which is a long way from “hating.” Those who actually read my review will find that I’m impressed by several aspects of this movie.

Some called me “self-important” and “an elitist.” What kind of elitist repeatedly admits that he’s just one moviegoer, describing his experience, and gives credit to others who have a different opinion? Hey, I even linked to a review by a colleague who disagrees with me.

Some criticized me for “judging” this film before I saw it. I can’t imagine why I would have done that, as I am a fan of this director, and have eagerly anticipated this movie for a long time.

Some assumed I object to the film’s “scientific implausibility.” Nope. I don’t expect scientific plausibility of science fiction films. I do, however, value “the suspension of disbelief.” This film only suspended my disbelief for about 15-20 minutes.

One guy — seems like there’s always one — told me that I shouldn’t criticize a movie unless I have the ability to make a better movie than the one I’m reviewing. Which is like saying that nobody should point out a worm in an apple unless he can grow a perfect apple himself.

Some complained that my review was too long. Hey, complaining that an Overstreet blog post is long is like complaining that a large pizza is large. If I were writing for a magazine… or Twitter… I’d be concise. This is my blog, which I often treat like a notebook, scribbling down long-winded first impressions. I’ve been doing that here for more than a decade, and I don’t remember anybody complaining before. Writing is a way of thinking for me — I find out what I think by writing. Readers have no obligation to come with me, and I’m not offended if they move on. Those who do pay attention — I’m grateful for their patience and their company.

Some complained that my experience of the movie was different than theirs. Others went further, condemning me and machine-gunning me with insults. Reading those blast-waves of messages felt like… well, it felt like watching Gravity again. I felt like an astronaut trying to find a refuge from a constant hail of deadly shrapnel.

As a result of that… comments on this review are now closed.

Thanks to all of you who agreed, or disagreed, respectfully. I appreciated and enjoyed your contributions. But, due to the relentless work of many intolerant accusers, I’m not willing to host a conversation on this film anymore. Not now, anyway.

I’m currently traveling — teaching and speaking at a couple of schools in Georgia and Tennessee. I’ve met moveigoers here who agreed with me about Gravity. I also met some who respectfully disagreed. Together we’ve marveled and laughed about the bruising I’ve taken for my review. Several of them have asked me to re-post my thoughts. (I removed it for a while, just for a break in the trouble.) In gratitude to them, I’ve agreed.

You’re invited, but not obligated, to read it and think it over. Perhaps we can discuss it someday. But please understand that, for now, I’m ready to move on to other subjects.

I do owe all of those Angry Torch-Wielding Readers one note of thanks: They’ve brought my blog more traffic than it has had in years. They’ve inspired me to focus even more energy on challenging popular opinions about movies, and teasing readers into more thorough conversation and contemplation.

Thanks for bearing with me through this unfortunate, but necessary, update.

One more thing: Let’s all revisit my blog’s foundational article — “Mystery and Message,” by Michael Demkowicz — reflect on what we talk about when we talk about art, clean the slate, and start over.

Now… on to my review of Gravity

A Worrying Trend in Special Effects

Whenever the movie industry achieves a major advance in special effects, movie screens are soon alive with blockbusters that demonstrate the new wizardry of those effects. And moviegoers emerge bug-eyed, astonished, perhaps even speechless. Some herald these blockbusters as major events in cinema history.

And once in a while, these groundbreaking spectacles are directed by someone other than James Cameron.

But maybe you’ve noticed an unfortunate commonality in these game-changing “event” films. I have. It seems to me that almost all movies that boast a new world of special effects end up employing those effects to produce wild displays of massive destruction. Like kids with their first chemistry sets, impulsive filmmakers rush to see who can set off the biggest explosion. “Hang on,” says the egomaniacal director, “because I am gonna blow shit up in ways you’ve never, ever seen before. I’ll blow your mind so powerfully, you’ll watch this violence again and again — even in slow motion — to track every piece of wreckage. I’m gonna make you say, ‘Wow, how did he do that?!’

This sets in motion a chain reaction, with competitive and unimaginative artists lining up to produce an ongoing variation of the same thing.

And thus, sadly, we rarely learn what other kinds of wonders might be possible with that chemistry set.

We can make dinosaurs come to life? We need a long line of movies showing them destroying everything in sight. (What else were dinosaurs good for, really?) We can make a photo-realistic, big-screen representation of a cruise ship? Let’s design the Titanic and then astonish people with its spectacular destruction! You know what that means? We can start blowing up national landmarks on screen in one movie after another, with alien invasions and terrorist attacks. We can show a tsunami destroying New York City? Let’s find some screenwriters who will give us an excuse to do it. Now that we can make it happen, let’s have a Star Trek starship crash into downtown and call it an allegory of 9/11. Now that we can make it happen, let’s have Superman fight Zod in a way that wipes out a major metropolitan area.

Like a beach populated by giddy six-year-olds, the big screen becomes foundation where smash-happy sand-castle builders assemble mediocre structures for the sole purpose of knocking them down.

And moviegoers — numbed by the relentless sensations of constant media on their phones, iPads, and TVs — line up for something bigger and louder just so they can feel a little something again.

It’s the impulse that led Peter Jackson to cut essential scenes from Tolkien’s Middle-earth narrative in order to leave room for seemingly endless sequences of elaborate warmaking. It led the filmmakers responsible for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to turn a page-and-a-half stretch of C.S. Lewis’s children’s storybook into 20+ minutes of battlefield hysteria, while cutting key conversations.

Once in a rare while, an innovative filmmaker will employ a brave new world of special effects in a way that unleashes beauty instead of chaos, that inspires joy and gratitude instead of demanding we cower in traumatized submission. Whether or not you liked Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you’re unlikely to deny that the special effects in that film were not engineered to emphasize Holy Crap Destruction, but breathtaking creation and transformation. We felt as if we were there, hovering with angels in the cosmos, watching worlds come into being.

I also think back fondly to Jim Henson’s dark, strange fantasy The Dark Crystal, which spent equal amounts of time cultivating beautifully mystical environments and nightmarish caverns full of monsters. That film had some terrifying violence, all the more effective for its brevity. Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain understood the mysterious power of visual beauty in the development of suspense and horror. And James Cameron’s Avatar had some sense of this. Even though I was disappointed in that movie for how it ultimately slumped into storytelling cliches and predictable patterns, I admired how Cameron took the time to develop a rather beautiful world to explore… for a while.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying every movie should be a meditative journey through beautiful pictures.

I’m just saying that I’ve lost my taste for destruction derbies, for films in which the sensory assault overwhelms the rest of the experience.

Holy Crap Destruction films make me feel like I’m swimming upstream through hurtling debris in hopes of arriving at something meaningful. And if what I do find there seems like Symbolism 101, or a sentimental pop sermon (“Be all that you can be!” “Follow your heart!” “You can do it, little camper! Dig deep!”), I have a hard time feeling grateful for the experience.

It is with all of this in mind that I walked out of the theater after seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s new film Gravity.

Cuarón’s Destruction Derby

Sure enough, almost everyone is raving about Gravity as one of the great leaps forward in filmmaking. Almost everyone is praising it as a must-see film, as a “You Won’t Believe Your Eyes” experience. And some are describing it as an enthralling trip into outer space. Friends of mine who are fascinated by the science of space travel and the allure of the cosmos headed out on opening day — which they rarely ever do for a movie

I shared their childlike eagerness. I love the idea of a movie that gives me a powerful new apprehension of what it’s like to spacewalk in zero gravity, suspended between the earth and the stars.

And I expected nothing less than a spellbinding experience from the director of Children of Men (my favorite film of 2006) and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (far and away my favorite film of that franchise).

But after I emerged from Gravity like everyone else — dizzy, exhausted, blown away — I quickly realized that I was not only dissatisfied but deeply disturbed by the experience.

And thus, I find myself in the extreme minority.

I don’t like being there, but I require honesty of myself, so here I am, working through thoughts and feelings that surprise me.

Gravity lost me about 15 minutes in. The opening minutes — which displays three astronauts at work during a beautiful but precarious “spacewalk” — were awe-inspiring. My mind reeled with the possibilities that were opening up.

But then came the initial crisis, and I quickly began to worry that this film’s vast realm of possibility was going to narrow into a predictable marathon of disasters, a methodical chain reaction of explosions and malfunctions and crises, while human beings race against countdowns to fix things and improvise their survival. Having experienced so many sequences like this, I began settling in merely to endure it. My suspension of disbelief got caught by the gravity of unimaginative storytelling, and crashed hard on its brutal surface.

Am I saying that such catastrophic events are impossible? No, of course not. I believe that some of these things could definitely happen in space. Similarly, I believe that someone might get on a plane someday and set loose a dozens of poisonous snakes.

It takes more than possibility to draw me into a movie, make me care about its characters, and make me believe in what I’m seeing.

This isn’t a movie about what it’s like in space 99.99999999% of the time. It is, instead, a relentless simulation of a Worst-Space Scenario, in which just about everything that can go wrong does. Gravity is basically Sandra Bullock and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Space Walk.

In short: Three space-walkers get caught in the blast wave of an explosion, and two of them end up enduring wave after wave of subsequent calamities as they venture through space trying to find some kind of contraption that can return them safely home. She’s scared and struggling, he’s confident and charismatic, and the rest is sound and fury.

I didn’t give up. As the rollercoaster ride accelerated into increasingly vertiginous dives, increasingly cacophonous noise, and increasingly elaborate images, I kept looking for something that might capture my imagination, something that would make the whole more than the sum of its sharp-edged, high-speed parts.

What I found seemed simplistic, sentimental, familiar, and undercooked.

This is the kind of movie that names its lead character “Dr. Stone” because, well, that just underlines the fact that she’s likely to fall to plunge back down to the earth’s surface. This is the kind of movie that makes its main character instantly sympathetic by giving her a “My baby died!” personal crisis, instead of, well, character traits and personality and real history. (And this, of course, underlines the already obvious umbilical cord imagery of tethered astronauts curling into fetal positions.)

Don’t get me wrong — none of this is the fault of the cast. George Clooney does what George Clooney does well in this film — he plays a guy who’s cocky, charming, and able to win over even the most stubborn female character to make her wiser and stronger. (Watching him, I thought back fondly on films that seemed more worthy of his sandpapery voice — like Out of Sight, in which he brilliantly sweet-talks Jennifer Lopez in the trunk of a car.)

Watching Sandra Bullock, I became nostalgic about her greatest asset — her sense of humor. (Her performances in the underrated Bogdanavich film The Thing Called Love and in Speed remain my favorites of her career.) As she solemnly submits to the demands of a Basic Woman-in-Distress template, a character no more complex than today’s video game avatars, she gives an impressively acrobatic performance. Her character’s journey from “solitary and numb” to “trial by fire” to “fetal position” to “surrender” and “rebirth” suggests promising possibilities for character development. But I never for a moment thought about anybody but Bullock herself as I watched her.

Art’s power is in its suggestiveness. Outside of an outline that could have been scribbled on one page of a legal pad, with darkly underlined points like “SPIRITUAL SUBTEXT” and “VISUAL METAPHOR”, Gravity doesn’t offer us much in the way of narrative or poetry. Compared to this undercooked script, Jurassic Park is a drama of Shakespearean dimensions, Contact was a film of timeless theological significance, and Cast Away was a Cormac McCarthy-esque masterpiece.

Oh, no, I get it. As a special effects demonstration reel, Gravity‘s first-rate.

Like the CGI that dazzled us in Titanic, The Return of the King, Sunshine, and King KongGravity is… well… bigger and busier. It’s somewhat distinct in the way its digital trickery delivers the illusion of “long takes,” but how do you assess a long take if most of what you’re seeing was produced on computers? (As a friend said, that’s like congratulating Pixar for a “long take.”) Like most digital animation breakthroughs, what we’re seeing is merely a matter of more, not really anything terribly new. The aspect of the film that impressed me most was the way they created a sense of weightlessness (we’ll come back to that word) by suspending Bullock on strings and turning her about in mid-air. So yes — hooray for CGI and actors suspended on strings! It’s true that the digital animators and and the extraordinary cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have integrated actors and animation almost seamlessly.

But…

…the movie undercuts its own visual achievement by using pauses only as opportunities to set us up for the next excruciating cataclysm. In music, rests serve far greater purposes than merely allowing us to draw breath before the next searing, bone-jarring blast of Beethoven force. That fact seems to have escaped these “composers.” Frankly, I felt more suspense, awe, and terror in that quiet, dream-like opening scene then I did in anything after it, when everything started blowing up all the time.

And speaking of music — I found myself wishing I could just drift away from all of this trouble, if only to float out of range of one of the most overbearing, merciless soundtracks I’ve ever endured. It turns out to be true: In space, nobody can hear you scream… because of Steven Price’s deafening “musical” score.

Yes, the filmmakers seem to take an admirable risk by forgoing the impossible sound effects of most space-travel movies… but then, as if they’re deeply unnerved by the silence (as they should be), they fill it up with searing noise. Once they’ve enthralled us with their realistic CGI, all the filmmakers can think to do for the audience is put them through the cinematic equivalent of waterboarding in order to show off their power to make us feel. We’re bludgeoned with spectacle and severity, as if Cuarón and Company are mad amusement park ride operators. Occasionally, they tease us with something like a human moment, a gasp of something like “Nobody ever taught me how to pray!”, or maybe a 3-D teardrop comin’ right at ya, only to deprive us of oxygen again and hold us under the next punishing rush of deadly metal shrapnel.

Praising Gravity for its spiritual undercurrent feels to me a little like praising Playboy for its book reviews. This a plate filled with the Wow-Factor of Kaboom, with a garnish of goodness — a meal that feeds appetites we might do well to question.

As Flannery O’Connor said, if an artist’s attention “is on producing a work of art, a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to this central meaning and design. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses. They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole.”

I’m not condemning the movie as worthless. I’m not saying it needs to match the surreality or poetic ambiguity of 2001 or Stalker or even The Fountain. I’m just saying that I found it disappointing because I can see so many richer movies within the filmmakers’ reach.

Clearly, this film exists in a different genre than anything by Terrence Malick, and that’s fine… but I found myself longing for one minute of the kind of awe that I felt during any 30-second stretch of The Tree of Life‘s creation sequences. If we’d sailed off into visions like those, it would have been bleak, but it might also have been haunting and beautiful.

Where is Alfonso Cuarón, who brought such enthralling magic to A Little Princess, such mood and nuance and character development to what could have been a routine Harry Potter episode, such complexity and literary skill and ambiguity to Y Tu Mama Tambien, such interesting characters and social commentary to Children of Men?

And it’s just so amusingly predictable that the well-toned female astronaut will spend much of the movie floating around in her girl-power underwear. Call it a tribute to Alien, a film full of heavier ideas than this one, if you must. All I could do was wonder: What if the lead character had been a man? Would the filmmakers have been willing to shoot Forrest Whitaker, or William H. Macy, or Liam Neeson as they swim around zero-gravity lakes in their undies?

Speaking of predictable — the filmmakers are quick to pin blame all of this catastrophe on Russians, because what else are Russians good for but threatening the world? (Oh, yeah… vodka! Don’t worry — this movie makes them responsible for that, too.)

Others will go on and on comparing Gravity to groundbreaking works of art like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but… really? Yes, this movie takes place in space. With astronauts. And space stations. But the similarities stop there. Kubrick’s classic got all of my senses, my imagination, and my mind roaring to life. Gravity made me long for even one character as interesting as Hal 9000.

Since I realize my experience with this film is going to be one of the only negative-ratings on the charts — and believe me, I make a habit of avoiding Armond White-style contrarianism — for good measure I’ll send you over to the review by my closest moviegoing friend and colleague, Steven Greydanus. He’s very impressed with Gravity. He applauds the film’s dazzling, persuasive physicality, its convincing sense of weightlessness. And so do I. I won’t disagree that Gravity‘s quite an achievement there.

It’s just that my interest in that kind of achievement doesn’t hold for long anymore, because I’ve experienced so many better fusions of effects and poetry, effects and narrative, effects and art. And if the hook is “You won’t believe the latest innovation in IMAX-sized destruction,” count me out.

Once again, an artist of formidable powers has had an opportunity to use those powers to fill the big-screen with wonder, beauty, and mystery. Once again, he’s been given the privilege of a worldwide audience eager to go where no audience has gone before, to see new things, to think new thoughts. He has the power to give us a simulated orbit of the earth, and what does he do? With the imaginative impulse of a 5-year-old, he subjects us to 90 minutes of everything exploding.

And sadly, many will be grateful merely to have felt the stress of it — to have felt anything at all, at the movies, for a change.

What that suggests about moviegoers may be the most troubling thing of all.

There is treatment available for people who seek out violent experiences in order to feel alive. But what’s the first important step in that treatment? Realizing that yes, Houston, we have a problem.

In the last couple of months, I’ve seen three movies in which two human beings walk alongside each other, engage in human conversations and relationship, and look about at ordinary things. And I’ve seen one set in outer space in which characters struggle through life-and-death calamity. I’m not saying every movie needs to be a philosophical debate directed by Richard Linklater. But of those four films, which three do you think will stay with me? Which three gave me characters I can’t wait to revisit? Which three will remain, by far, the most meaningful part of my moviegoing experience? Those three low-budget earthbound productions were the movies that really showed me something new and mysterious, that took me where no movies had gone before.

Imagine what those screenwriters and directors would have done with a scenario like this. They might have revealed the real gravity of the situation.

A Few More “Minority Opinions”

I’m apparently not alone out here in space.

I’m grateful to have found a few others touching on some of the questions I’ve been asking. Here are a few…

Richard Brody of The New Yorker (one of my favorite film critics):

It’s hard to recall a movie that’s as viscerally thrilling and as deadly boring as “Gravity,” a colossal and impressive exertion of brain power aimed at overriding—at obviating—the use of brain power. Seeing the movie in 3-D and close to the screen (as I did) delivers the sensation of jetting about in a space walk, and then, when catastrophe strikes, of floating untethered in space, with a breathtaking immediacy. The free-floating camera is a glorious trick; when satellite debris blasted toward the camera, I ducked.

But the movie involves a far more menacing emptiness than the physical void of outer space: the absence of ideas. . . .

Calum Marsh at The L Magazine:

And so it is that Gravity motors on, stopping on occasion to unload an embarrassing bit of half-baked backstory or to ponder mortality with the air of a college-aged stoner. Cuaron, to his credit, seems dimly aware that his dialogue is laughable (the film opens with a “Macarena” joke!), and so he soon conspires to jam inter-astronaut communications to better focus on the much-discussed contemplative silence of space. But even here he fails himself: Steven Price’s bleating, obnoxious score drowns out the natural sounds of nothing at all. It’s just more of the same old spectacle, precision-calibrated for audience appeal. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Gravity facilitates such praise. It’s been constructed as a vehicle for enthusiasm, tailor-made for gobsmacked and unthinking awe before its glitzy high-tech wonders.

Ken Morefield at 1 More Film Blog:

As a technical achievement, I give the film full props. There are individual shots that are stunning, and scenes of visceral intensity to match any thriller white knuckle for white knuckle. I submit to the bravado of the long take.  Even in a scene like the first where I felt as though my attention was being drawn to the formal elements (like the long take) in a way that felt too self-conscious–and hence said “gimmick” rather than “innovation”–I still felt awed by the technical achievement. [A good comparison might be toLes Miserables, where something new–the live singing–was done, but the film drew so much attention to the fact that it was done that way that it threatened to overpower other parts of the film.]

But I grow weary of intensity for intensity’s sake. I would much prefer that special effects help create and sustain the illusion of a story that draws me in. …  There were plenty of places in Gravitywhere I said, “I wonder how they shot that?” or “I wonder how strenuous a shoot it was for Sandra Bullock.” At no point, even in an early point-of-view shot did I say something like, “Poor Dr. Stone, that must be unimaginably terrifying.” For such a tense, dread-filled film, most of the emotional responses were engineered through music, jump-cuts, money shots; very few were arrived at organically. It was a drama with a thriller’s sensibilities.

 

 

  • Facebook
  • jeffreyoverstreet

    THE COMMENTS SECTION OF THIS REVIEW IS OFFICIALLY CLOSED. (See the update at the beginning of this review.)

  • TRT0071

    The movie could be summed up in one word: BORING.

    I didn’t connect with the characters and the story was predictable.
    For me the most interesting part of Gravity is how my negative opinion contrasts with the incredible high ratings others have given it. Never have I see such high ratings on a movie which I deemed so incredibly boring.

  • James McKinnon

    I’m reminded that we all surrender or refuse to surrender to a piece of art, and then most of us fill in the rest of the blanks with flaws or assets according to whether or not we surrenered to begin with. The overly-whiz-bang destructo-pace of the movie seems to have jolted Mr. Overstreet out of any possible surrender, and then lots of nitpicks naturally followed that would surely have been forgiven if the central surrender had taken place. But this is a very good and thoughtful negative review that I’m glad I read even if the breakneck one-long-emergency aspect of the film doesn’t jar me from the awe and poetry of the film as it does for him.

  • irlyhatedisqus

    An attemptedly succinct, definitely good-humored though admittedly contrarian opposing opinion.

    I read your review in its entirety, so if I am omitting something you said it’s because I forgot, not that I did not read.

    *spoilers!*

    One spot of your review that stuck out to me was when you said “15 min in, I realized it would be one thing after another and I just decided to endure it.” When I was watching the movie, when Sandra said “should we worry about the debris?” and George said “let’s let the people on the ground worry about us”, and I thought it was funny because the audience was on the ground and worrying about them, and also it was such dramatic irony that the audience was fully aware bad stuff was going to happen, and George Clooney was aware of the risks but didn’t know it was a disaster flick.

    Anyways, getting to the point ASAP, the point of the movie isn’t to hide the ball, or trick you a la “a disaster movie where disaster movies DON’T happen”, but rather, knowing what you are getting into when you buy your ticket, it may be more fair to yourself as a viewer if you put yourself into the shoes of the hero, rather than the shoes of the audience member (yourself). I mean, you cared more about your own plight (i.e. “1.25 remaining minutes of stressful viewing of movie-characters in peril”) rather than the plight of the character (i.e. “I may die and it’s scary!”) If you focus on your own point of view rather than the characters’, it seems like you are undercutting your potential to enjoy the film in a way that could potentially sabotage your ability to enjoy ALL disaster flicks.

    Though I did read your points about you saying that you merely prefer better marriages of special effects and poetry/narrative/etc, so it is a complicated situation I spose.

  • http://corthodoxy.wordpress.com/ Ken Brown

    I don’t often disagree with your reviews, but I feel like you missed on this one. Of course everything goes wrong that could go wrong–that’s the point of a survival movie. If anything, I felt that she was TOO lucky at times, but I don’t see how you can fault a film of this sort for putting its protagonist in near constant peril. Maybe you are tired of the genre, and you raise some valid criticisms, but the tone of this review feels more like a dismissal than a balanced assessment.

    I will certainly grant that the script needed work–I thought the acting was great, but they weren’t given much to work with. Where I completely disagree, is your claim that this was about maximizing destruction for its own sake. The movie wasn’t perfect, but I don’t think it is fair to put it on a level with a true destruction derby like Man or Steel. To me, the destruction was necessary to remove every possible safe haven, narrowing her options as far as possible, and dramatizing the precariousness of life in space in a very visceral way. If they reveled in anything, it was vertigo, and they can hardly be faulted for THAT.

    Could they have done without so many explosions? Maybe. The station could have simply had an air leak, or a computer malfunction, or something. But I don’t see how that would have been an improvement. Excitement is not a bad thing, and one way or another every possibility of safety had to be removed. I never felt like they were dwelling on the destruction itself, so much as using it to lend maximal urgency to what she had to do. That the threat was overwhelming and kept returning is not itself a problem, as far as I can see. A threat that we understand and know must keep returning offers a much more compelling obstacle than a string of unrelated accidents.

    Whatever its failings, the film did that well. And in the end, I’d put up with much greater imperfections than this film had for the breathtaking visuals. You’ve convinced me that Gravity could have been a lot more than it was, but I’m not sure you give enough credit to what it is.

  • Stephen C. Smith

    Glad to hear I wasn’t the only one who walked out of “Gravity” feeling like I’d been dumbed down for 90 minutes … My review is at:

    http://spaceksc.blogspot.com/2013/10/anti-gravity.html

  • Christopher Williams

    I left with a different takeaway from the film, but I think it’s not a question of whether you’re right or wrong (filmgoing is subjective) but a question of personal taste. I think some of the commentators here are upset with what they perceive as you bad-mouthing or invalidating their own experience; they likely haven’t followed you long enough to get a feel of the films you like and what you’re looking for in your art (I’m guessing a lot of trolls clicked here from Rotten Tomatoes). While I greatly enjoyed–even loved– the film, I do find reading the musings of critics I disagree with to be such an essential part of the conversation.

    Yes, “Gravity” is pretty much just a roller coaster ride. Cuaron’s original script bore the subtitle “a space suspense in 3D.” He set out to make something wracked with tension that would give audiences a ride they’d never had before, and I’d argue he’s succeeded. It’s different than something like “Lone Ranger” or “Transformers,” because it’s not empty spectacle — there is exquisite craftsmanship going on here, and the “art” the film’s detractors are looking for is not seen in a ground-breaking narrative or sharp dialogue (which could have used another polish) but in putting together something that transports us to a place where we’ve never been, dazzles us with shots that we’ve thought are impossible to film (seriously, only about 17 shots in this entire movie!) and that grabs us by the lapels and doesn’t let us go for 90 minutes.

    The question is whether you’re okay with a movie being “just” a thrill ride. And that’s an answer that varies from critic to critic (and it’s why people are getting upset here — which they shouldn’t). No, “Gravity” isn’t the best pure thrill ride I’ve ever seen — some of the wit of something like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” would help a great deal. But sometimes I don’t need a film to make me ask deep questions or has me nodding in recognition at its dialogue. Sometimes I just want to be put in the hands of a master craftsman who is going to make me forget about the world I live in for a bit and just take me on a ride, showing me things I haven’t seen before. And while some of Gravity’s special effects do focus on destruction, I was still plenty awed by the shots on Earth looming in the background, the terror of someone engulfed in darkness and spinning out of reach, or the beauty of our home planet after the terror of space. I may think Before Midnight or Stories We Tell are “better” films this year because they caused me to reflect on relationships, art and life more than this one. But I’d also say that sometimes pure cinema is about transporting the audience and having them share in a visceral experience — which is why I will likely also have “Gravity” on my best-of list.

    Also, the soundtrack may have been overbearing, but Malick has the same problem. (“Tree of Life” may have topped my best-of list in 2011, but I still felt assaulted by sound in some areas…and “To the Wonder” takes it to almost satirical extremes).

    Also, have you read FilmCritHULK’s defense of the film? http://badassdigest.com/2013/10/07/a-short-note-on-the-simplicity-of-gravity/

  • Chad

    I think you need some of that Russian vodka.

    I kid. But your edge with all of this, one that I shared with you in regards to Slumdog Millionaire, is not something I share with you here. It’s funny you dub Jurassic Park a classic yet don’t acknowledge the similarity between the two films. Cuaron asserts in the prologue that “Life in space is impossible.” The whole film was a challenge to that assertion. Could life survive in a lifeless, chaotic, dangerous place, albeit one where the immediate dangers are man-made? It’s a similar thesis to Jurassic Park’s famous “Life finds a way” maxim; and like that movie, Gravity’s protagonists are thrust into a fight to survive amidst terrifying dangers in a harsh and unforgiving environment. Jurassic Park was more fun and funny, but Gravity nevertheless maintains the balance of gravitas and weightlessness needed in an Oscar-worthy film that also appeals to the masses.

    You said: “When I realized it was just going to be 90 minutes of “And then this goes wrong, and then this goes wrong…”, I started losing interest fast.”

    You’re probably (and understandably) sick of the megawatt, end-of-the-world destruction of mindless blockbusters that suddenly all explosions are annoying and pointless. Sure, Gravity is noisy and violent where you’d rather see “ideas” and memorable images, but it’s better than a mere series of unfortunate events. Something goes wrong, but then the astronauts have to make it right. Another thing goes wrong, and then they have a new challenge. Sounds a lot like life to me. If life is impossible in space, as Cuaron makes clear up front, then how does Bullock survive? (A rhetorical question, since this is a movie so of course she survives.) Those other superhero explosion fests aren’t concerned with the cause and effect of destruction; they just want to blow stuff up. In Gravity, though, the destruction matters because it forces the characters, Bullock’s specifically, out into the void and away from safety and assumptions. It forces her to grow.

    You said: “But of those four films, which three do you think will stay with me? Which three gave me characters I can’t wait to revisit? Which three will remain, by far, the most meaningful part of my moviegoing experience?”

    I love the Before series and This is Martin Bonner as much as you do, but how can you compare those to Gravity? I realize your point was to show what kinds of movies stick with you, but that Gravity was different from the kinds of films you really love shouldn’t be held against it. It’s like saying, I wish Gravity was about aliens and beer and friends like The World’s End was, because I loved that movie! I enjoy so many different kinds of films for different reasons, but I think we should judge Gravity on its merits alone.

    You said: “I’m just saying that it’s disappointing because, even though it takes place beyond earth’s orbit, its aims are so simplistic and mundane… and I can see so many richer movies within the filmmakers’ reach.”

    Simplistic, maybe. But not mundane. To restate my earlier point, I think you’re letting your weariness of rote blockbuster fare cloud your perception of Gravity’s action, which is more fresh and on point and harrowing that you give it credit for. My dislikes in Gravity notwithstanding — the hammy dialogue, the on-the-nose imagery, the distracting moviestar-ness of the leads — it’s still an original, well-made film by a gifted auteur that killed at the box office and with (most) critics. Though Children of Men remains the standard-bearer for what Cuaron can do, I’m happy to accept Gravity as something worth seeing.

  • MovieJay

    How can you penalize a movie for what it isn’t? Or, for what you wanted it to be, but wasn’t? Trust me, I struggle with this too, sometimes, but in the end, what is this movie trying to do, and how well is it doing it? It isn’t “2001″, it isn’t “Tree of Life”, it isn’t a lot of movies, nor was it aiming to be anything more than a really cool audience picture that puts you through the wringer and makes you feel like you were really experiencing it all, too.

    I take exception to one thing you said, though: “They do nothing with the visual metaphor”. You’ve got to be kidding. Notice how after that visual metaphor it is no longer a Woman-in-Distress movie? That our “Starchild” is now transforming?

    This is a classic disaster movie with the added appeal of asking us what we might do if we were left alone to fend for ourselves in a cruel, indifferent environment. “You can get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’”. Classic audience picture theme. Will you roll up into a ball and do nothing or will you at least go down swinging?

    That’s a lot more appealing to me in a blockbuster movie than stupid zombies or stupid alien creatures or stupid car chases or any number of stupid situations of external conflict.

    Luck gets Dr. Stone halfway; the rest she must do for herself.

    It’s totally obvious that the movie is about that because it makes it about that, and even though it still doesn’t make this a terribly profound film, it makes it a much more engaging thriller than all that other stupid crap we’re used to.

    The conflict is an exterior one at first, but then evolves to become a universally internal conflict about how our character is revealed in moments of great challenge. I’ll take that kind of conflict over stupid action villains any day!

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      To describe what grieves me about the content of a film is not to “penalize” it for what it isn’t. What it is feels boring and unimaginative to me, and gives seconds, thirds, and fourths of the stuff that seems to be overwhelming Event Movies these days: show-offy scenes of urban chaos and destruction. Pummeled numb by that stuff inGravity, I came away frustrated with what was there, and thinking of all of the things that might have been. “A really cool audience picture that puts you through the wringer” sounds like a movie that doesn’t particularly interest me. (“Really cool” is extremely subjective, and “puts you through the wringer” describes a ton of films I’ve regretted seeing, or forgot about a few days later.) I’d come to anticipate something more substantial from Mr. Cuaron.

      As for “stupid zombies” or “stupid alien creatures” … I’ve seen some zombie films and some movies about aliens that were far more thoughtful than this. And some that were pretty stupid too. Depends on the strength of the artistry and the imaginations of the artists.

      Also “Lucky gets Dr. Stone halfway; the rest she must do for herself” doesn’t sound particularly inspiring to me. First of all, I don’t believe in luck. Secondly, “you can do it” stories are a dime a dozen. I didn’t feel this story brought anything fresh or interesting to that.

      But that’s me. If you enjoyed it and got something out of it, I’m happy for you. You say it’s “more engaging” than “all that other stupid crap we’re used to.” Speak for yourself. I’ve seen about 35 movies this year. I’ve got more than 20 of them on my favorites list for the year so far. I would enjoy, and get more from, watching any of those than I would from watching Gravity again. It’s my job to tell the truth about my experience and describe the “why” and “how” of it. You’re welcome to have your own, differing experience.

  • Bob

    It sounds like you would have preferred a movie with more dialogue and more thoughtful, artistic sequences. But this isn’t that kind of move. The writer/director was really trying to present the process of grief and acceptance and persiverence from a different perspective, by comparing it to a journey in space (you can’t survive in space).

    Maybe a lot of that symbolism went over your head, but it looks like that’s only because you weren’t looking for it in the first place. It seems like you’d judged this movie before you ever saw it. You knew it wasn’t the movie you wanted to see (too simplistic, too easy to relate to, not cerebral enough), and so you didn’t give it a chance. But ultimately the one who is losing out is you. This is an incredible work, by a very talented writer/director.

    You’re like a man who went into a sushi restaurant and complained when your fish wasn’t cooked. You didn’t want to watch this movie, and as a result your assessment of it is incorrect. In the future, you should either learn to appreciate simpler movies, or stick to reviewing movies which are complicated enough for you to understand.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      “It sounds like you would have preferred a movie with more dialogue and more thoughtful, artistic sequences.”

      Not necessarily. I would have preferred a movie with a little less screen time devoted to things spinning out of control and blowing up all over the place. And a little more of that haunting sense of quiet that we get at the very beginning of this film since, well, I hear there’s a good deal of that in space.

      As I stated in my review — maybe you missed it — but I didn’t judge this before I saw it. I was actually anticipating a film that demonstrated the strengths of a proven storyteller, one who makes films full of nuance and human complexity. I was disappointed to find something so simplistic and preoccupied with the “Wow” factors.

      “Ultimately the one who is losing out is you.”

      That suggests there is only one right opinion about this movie. I humbly disagree.

      “You’re like a man who went into a sushi restaurant and complained when your fish wasn’t cooked.

      Then why do I feel like a man who went into a sushi restaurant hoping for a substantial meal only to have the cook scream and yell and bang pots and pans and serve me some celery and a fortune cookie and then splash hot grease on my face?

  • Michael Young

    Hi Jeffrey, I have seen Gravity and really enjoyed it as a cinematic experience and even tolerated the actors and story which I felt was pretty good for 91 minutes of what was is essentially Sandy’s tussle with space. I liked that the film rollicked along and started then ended without Hollywood (i’m an Aussie btw for what it’s worth with a great cheesometer) exposition bookends. I loved it as a showcase of visual wonder!

    I also enjoy reading reading positive and negative reviews after I have seen a film. Your review is dissenting and well argued and to be a dissenter is your right but the way you are engaging with your comments section is what I have to call you on:

    “I’ve just been deleting messages fro people who think it’s somehow immoral or criminal of me to feel the way I felt during this film.”

    So we’re left with mostly comments that agree with you. And you’ve gone, re-edited to quote other reviewers that agree with you in the body of the review.

    Couple of things. 1. I challenge you to let this comment through and 2, Let the others through too. It will be character building!

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Michael, the comments I’m deleting are comments like:

      “You are a 13 year old critcial wannnabe.”

      That’s not character building. It’s a total waste of space and effort, and flaunts the writer’s ignorance.

      I’ve “let through” a balanced mix of positive and negative responses, based on what’s come in.

  • Jerry Potsticker

    “It’s not [Bullock's] fault that the character is about as complex as the average video game avatar. She gives an impressive performance in spite of the screenplay’s deficiencies, performing a lot of zero-gravity acrobatics. But I never for a moment thought about anybody but Bullock herself as I watched her.”

    This is the most important snippet of any review I’ve seen about the movie. And it gets to the heart of the matter: a film is generally only as good as its protagonist(s) …… especially when he/she is onscreen 90 percent of the time.

    I, like most others, was expecting a great film, in light of the rave reviews the movie has received.

    But when I saw the flick, it was evident that the “script” was a mess, and that the dialogue, particularly Bullock’s dialogue at the end, felt awkward and forced. I don’t think it was Bullock’s fault. As the reviewer averred, the character’s lines were poorly written. It was just hard to stomach the amount of dialogue that unrelentingly beat the audience over the head with forced emotion and back-story. When people are alone and in danger, they don’t speak their respective life stories to themselves out loud and make cheeky comments about their humanistic progress, as Bullock’s character did. Even an amateur screenwriter should know this.

    Seriously, kudos to the reviewer for being honest and NOT having his nose up Cuaron’s love muffin like all the other critics.

  • louis

    I agree with 100% of what this review says

  • jeffreyoverstreet

    Why, thank you, Joe.

  • Tomassina

    The terrifying silence of space , implacable, eternal, inhuman ,the stuff of deep anguish & depression ,the stuff of nightmares , was at first emphasized by the faint human voices of the beginning of the film. And then ruined by the bathos of the “monologue” & the overpoweringly shallow musical score.
    My companion got really angry at me when I said “I could do without that music!” ,at the end of the movie & accused me of being negative.
    I too, fail to see why Dr. Stone had to be stripped down to her underwear .
    Would George Clooney have been if he’d been the survivor?

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Yeah, I think the scariest, most haunting part of the movie is all of that impressive stuff before the explosions begin.

  • Patrick McMahon

    Goodness, the movie is a bore and soooooo implausible and preposterous. I went to Rotten Tomatoes and couldn’t believe the raves. Wow, what film did they see? SFX were quite good but added to the improbability of the characters’ outcomes.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Kind of like watching somebody else play a very expensive video game, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674275147 Slavko Oršolić

    Saw the movie yesterday evening. Mr. Overstreet, you have described my every single impressions with eerie accuracy. Amusement park ride, that’s what it was for me. OK if that is what the viewer expected, a disappointment if more was expected. Judging from conversations around me, most people did like the movie. However, this being Amsterdam, people don’t fall for every trick: there was a roar of laughter when Bullock ‘almost’ gets caught in water weeds while swimming to the surface.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I laughed at that same moment because I couldn’t help but think, “What if she opened her eyes and saw Wilson the Cast Away Volleyball lying there?”

  • koonzelman

    I’m honestly baffled by the negativity here. Jeff, I’ve been reading you for a while now and it seems you always have an axe to grind when it comes to big budget films like this. You always seem to point out how “tired” or “exhausted” you are by the experience. I can understand this for something like Pacific Rim, but here, I dunno. Most films with this kind of spectacle are now reserved for two and a half hour comic book films, not a breezy ninety minutes of space.

    I’m wondering what exactly you’re looking for with these movies. We know you like Malick, you referenced “Tree of Life” TWICE in your review. There was no way this was ever going to be that kind of movie. I liked what I thought was a calculated decision to cast big, likable stars, so when things go wrong so early on, we fear for them. For me, I felt the quieter moments worked well for more than a time-out. Eventually, they became developed just enough that we knew WHY we should care about them. I found Ryan’s struggle to actually WANT to survive at least as interesting as any of the basic thriller stuff that came before, and by the end, it felt life-affirming and poignant. Almost like a more positive take on Liam Neeson’s character in “The Grey”. Some of her back-story is a little on the nose, but I chalk that up to necessary studio influence when you have a movie this expensive. The point is, she didn’t feel like she had much to live for on Earth, and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded leaving out the specifics. Some better dialogue would have been nice, but I also would have been fine with less. I don’t think this is the kind of movie that NEEDS more story or character development. And I loved Clooney as an astronaut, his cavalier attitude may have seemed like he was on autopilot, but I took a lot of his dialogue as a way of keeping everyone calm. I liked how he never got to finish his stories, because that wasn’t the point. It was his way of looking out for the others and keeping them calm. His hero act was covering up a strong layer of concern.

    As for the visuals, I thought this was one of the most incredible looking movies I’ve ever seen, and it’s a shame that seems to get swept under the rug in lieu of a number of caveats. I mean, you mention it because, well, YOU HAVE TO, but there’s always a “BUT”. From Miley Cyrus music vids, to those awful, distrusting video games, everything regarding the FX seems like a backhanded compliment. It’s wonderful when a film is able to cover all the bases and give us a strong narrative, characters with depth, resonant themes, etc. on top of the eye candy, but…..can we please acknowledge how hard that is to actually do? It’s a rare thing. And I think this was one of the best examples I’ve seen of a big budget studio film using CGI in an effective way, while making an honest and solid attempt at character and story. It was expensive, mainstream filmmaking as art. It wasn’t Tree of Life or 2001, but it certainly wasn’t Armageddon either.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I’m honestly baffled by the negativity here. Jeff, I’ve been reading you for a while now and it seems you always have an axe to grind when it comes to big budget films like this.

      I realize that I’m a little punchy about this one. If I sound a little agitated, don’t take it personally. It’s not you. I’ve just been deleting messages fro people who think it’s somehow immoral or criminal of me to feel the way I felt during this film.

      Perhaps it’s because I have an inclination to hope that movies fueled by such vast resources might come up with a script that seems to have been written by a thoughtful screenwriter. I actually found more that interested me in Pacific Rim‘s script than I did in this one. That’s not an exaggeration.

      As Brody wrote in The New Yorker, the film was short on interesting ideas. That rings true to me, and it speaks to my boredom. And when they’re primarily busy and frantic as if trying to distract us from their lack of ideas, I get bored fast.

      Film critic Scott Renshaw writes, “Young critics: Opinion is nothing, insight is everything. Don’t tell people what to watch; tell them what to watch for.” Perhaps Gravity is a masterpiece and I just don’t see it yet. But what would I possibly tell viewers to “watch for” as if it might reveal unexpected depths to the film?

      Most films with this kind of spectacle are now reserved for two and a half hour comic book films, not a breezy ninety minutes of space.

      Well, I *am* thankful this one was only 90 minutes. I was ready to leave much earlier.

      I’m wondering what exactly you’re looking for with these movies.

      IDEAS. An interesting story. Characters interesting enough to invest in. A story that’s about more than a relentless series of life-threatening crises. When I realized it was just going to be 90 minutes of “And then this goes wrong, and then this goes wrong…”, I started losing interest fast. People can point me to as many links as they want that back up the film’s good science and fact-based scenarios, but factuality in science and a sense of plausibility in storytelling are two different things.

      Much better things can happen in big budget films. I’ve seen plenty of examples.

      We know you like Malick, you referenced “Tree of Life” TWICE in your review.

      Well, find me some other films in recent memory to take us beyond earth’s gravitational pull and show some real interest in what’s out there. You know, space. This film seems eager to fill space with explosions and mechanical disintegration of all sorts.

      There was no way this was ever going to be that kind of movie.

      I don’t know. This is the director that brought a surprisingly patient, nuanced touch to a Harry Potter episode. This is the guy who took on a classic children’s novel — A Little Princess — and made an admirably modest, sturdy, classical film from it that I remember vividly many years later. This is the guy who turned a road movie about horny teenagers and a runaway bride into a literary exploration of history, class issues, gender issues. And this is the guy who made Children of Men, which I found to be an uncharacteristically thoughtful action movie. So, yeah, I think I had a good reason for hoping that this might be something more thought-provoking than what I got.

      I liked what I thought was a calculated decision to cast big, likable
      stars, so when things go wrong so early on, we fear for them.

      So… we should fear for them because they’re likeable celebrities? You watch movies very differently than me. I don’t want to be distracted by familiar celebrities. The more familiar the actor, the bigger challenge that actor has in creating a memorable character for audiences who already associate him with his signature characters. I want the character to win me over, to make me believe, to make me care.

      The point is, she didn’t feel like she had much to live for on Earth…

      An intriguing point. Wish the film had either explored that… or else left it out.

      As for the visuals, I thought this was one of the most incredible
      looking movies I’ve ever seen…

      I can’t argue with you on that. It’s one of the most incredible-looking movies you’ve ever seen. Okay. It wasn’t one of the most incredible-looking I’ve ever seen. And that’s because different things impress me. The digital animators convinced us of their capacity to make things look real… okay. But “incredible-looking” for me has to do with memorable images — which has to do with visual beauty, with composition, with symmetry and variation and mystery… not just the “WOW” factor. I saw a lot of crazy, dizzying motion and explosions and wildness and camera moves that took me out of the movie and drew attention to the director. But I didn’t come away with moments that demonstrate much of a sense that images can mean something on their own.

      It’s wonderful when a film is able to cover all the bases and give us a strong narrative, characters with depth, resonant themes, etc. on top of the eye candy, but…..can we please acknowledge how hard that is to actually do?

      I know plenty of writers personally who, given this script and an hour or two, could have strengthened the narrative, deepened the characters, developed the themes further.

      It wasn’t Tree of Life or 2001, but it certainly wasn’t Armageddon either.

      Hate to say it, but I had a lot more fun with Armageddon. It’s a big cheezy B-movie and it knows it. The hammy performances and goofball humor keep me watching and in good humor beginning to end. The super-seriousness of Gravity worked against it since I didn’t find it had a narrative to live up to the questions it half-raised.

      Again, that was my experience. I don’t come away and set myself to the task of coming up with reasons to give a negative review.

      • koonzelman

        I think we can agree that there are things this movie could have done better. I also accept that, sadly, the business of moviemaking doesn’t always allow for some things to happen that could strengthen a film. I was fine with the casting because a 100 million dollar movie needs to sell tickets. I don’t hold it against the film for not having someone like Sam Rockwell (cue the “Moon was better” comments)

        On the visuals: I can appreciate a poetic sunset, a camera shot that is satisfied with staying put and letting us soak in the view, or an image containing a deeper, thematic meaning. I can also marvel at the amazing craft of sequences found in a movie like this, the scope of it, the choreography. I hate when action sequences get looked down on, usually just for being action sequences. It’s an art form and not a lot of directors can do it well. It’s also a foundational element to storytelling. I enjoyed the still, quiet moments in “Moon” and how they conveyed loneliness and allowed for thought. That doesn’t mean I have to thumb my nose at kinetic sequences of action that convey a sense of power, vulnerability, and our relative smallness in the face of creation.

        I’m sure the script could have been improved as you say. My point was that, because of the business of moviemaking, things that can happen to make great art, often don’t because of circumstances. And there are a lot of things a big movie like this can accomplish, that a much smaller movie can’t do. I felt like “Gravity” was the result of years of digital fx pioneering finally coming to fruition and being applied to the modern blockbuster with great actors and a director that has mastered some of his greatest tricks. In that sense, it worked quite well for me. I’m trying to keep these posts short (it’s hard) so I’ll just say there are some things we’re going to have to agree to disagree on. Thanks for your time.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          I agree that there is an art to an action sequence. Part of the art is to craft characters and motivations that the audience can relate to. The movie fell flat on that front. The only reason that we should care about Stone (aside from the painfully manipulative daughter narrative) is that she doesn’t want to die and we can empathize with that… except she doesn’t so we can’t!

          Not to mention that there is a problem when you present the same artwork time after time. The first time you see a beautiful still life, it is just that: beautiful. The fifth time you are aware that it lacks originality, imagination, and anything new to keep you looking. The third time the debris field implausibly swings back across their orbit I’m just sick of watching space stations disintegrate. They’ve already shown that piece of art. They are just rearranging the same elements.

          Heck, if the debris comes around a second time while Clooney and Bullock are still together, you can have a quiet moment in the depths of space where the two of them aren’t running, bumping, jostling, or avoiding peril. They could just cling to each other and close their eyes as silent debris whips past them. It would probably be the most poignant moment in the film, and certainly it would be more artful than the silly obvious fetal position scene. I was cringing in anticipation the second she removed her helmet (THIS IS COMPROMISED EQUIPMENT QUIT REMOVING YOUR PROTECTIVE GEAR).

          For all the time people spend acknowledging that the Avengers was a silly spectacle movie, it spent the majority of its run time focusing on motivation, setup, and character. By the time Iron Man was unconscious, falling limply through the sky above New York I cared much more than when Stone was howling at French dogs.

          The action was exhilarating because I felt their failures and cheered their successes. Ultimately a silly movie like the Avengers was much more grounded than this self important movie that engaged in the same spectacle porn.

          I enjoyed Gravity but only by constantly shrugging aside its weaknesses and just absorbing the visuals that for all their “realism” lacked verisimilitude because of how two dimensional this 3d spectacle actually was.

        • koonzelman

          Well developed characters and motivations are an art form unto themselves and help enhance an action sequence. That doesn’t make the craft of a particular scene any less impressive. And nobody is playing a video game this good looking.

          I also don’t get the hate for Bullock’s character here. Her howling scene seemed a little silly until you realized she thought she was going to die, and that it was the last thing she thought she’d ever hear. That’s where her performance went from the damsel-in-distress template to something greater. She fought for her life, for a new beginning. Her re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere was an extension of that fetal position, cliched as it may be. It’s still presents a strong and effective image of someone fighting for life with a new-found energy. I liked her laugh after trying to stand up and falling back down in the mud. She truly seemed like a different person. A more appreciative person.

        • jeffreyoverstreet

          If you’re talking to me, “hate for Bullock’s character” is not something I’ve indicated. Disappointment? Yes. But please, I don’t feel any hate for this movie or anything in it.

        • koonzelman

          “hate” is probably too strong a word. I was speaking more to the opinions here that the character isn’t developed, and that it’s hard to feel empathy for her, which I disagree with.

        • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

          What I was trying to say is that the art of the action scene is dependent on having stakes that the audience can invest in.

          The action scenes are obviously kinetically superb, but I found that it completely failed to invest me in the stakes or the characters. Its like having an incredibly detailed foreground, but the background of your painting is blank.

          You’ve missed half the point when you fail to give your subject any context. At least that’s my reaction to it. Obviously this is all subjective, which is why educated, discerning people will reach different conclusions.

  • CD

    I too mistakenly went to see this movie based on the 98% rotten tomato score. Minus the special effects, Gravity wasn’t much more than a disaster movie of the week…sort of like a SyFy disaster movie with art house intentions. Like a SyFy flick, Gravity was disposable entertainment.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I think Disaster Movies are one of the most difficult to make compelling, since the disaster so easily upstages the human drama and becomes inappropriately attractive.

      • CD

        I wasn’t a huge fan of the Tsunami movie “Impossible”. At least in this movie, though, the human drama wasn’t a side note. In “Gravity”, I was suppose to develop empathy for Ryan based on 2 minutes of dialogue about her dead daughter.

      • disqus_atlq8Zmtsd

        I thought Day After Tomorrow did a wonderful job IN PLACES. I thought it spent a little too much time attempting to raise the stakes of national disaster, but at the same time it created bonds between its characters and made a strong statement regarding human compassion.

  • Eugene Castro

    I was wondering if me and the dozens of people that were laughing at how bad and how looooong this movie is ( about 85 minutes too long) were crazy after reading reviews by either cult members or zombies. What a piece of crap!

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Well, believe it or not, I think I liked it better than you did. I found a lot to admire about the film, as I said in my review. But it was all in technical aspects… and the whole was not greater than the sum of the parts. I would never call this movie “crap.” Boring, sure. Unimaginative, yes. And I have plenty of friends who greatly admire it, and I respect their views. I would never call them “cult members” or “zombies.”

  • jason2567

    Jeffrey. You nailed it. I was soooooo excited to see this film! Told everyone about it! And then laughed the entire last hour of the movie. The movie should have been titled, “Murphy’s Law”, not Gravity. “Let’s see, our movie is only 30 minutes long you guys. What else bad can happen?? We need about 60 more minutes of stuff to add to this plotless wonder!!!” “Ummmm, maybe more straps can break?? Orrrr lets add a third space station; that will definitely add time. And then we can make that station Chinese and she will struggle flying the thing because she won’t understand any of the chinese. Even though she didn’t understand Russian, and seemed perfectly fine flying that one”. Yeah, great idea!!!! WOW.. just wow. “And then even though she escaped DISASTER in space.. she should almost drown too.. That would be soooo intense!!!” “Yeah, and then there should be a lot of huge kelp that almost grabs her too, such an awesome payoff!” There are so many more but i digress… Never… no not ever, have i been so excited to see a movie and been soooo disappointed…..

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Yeah, I don’t think this movie is doing much to inspire a new generation to dream of working for NASA.

  • sdmcxian

    Thank you! FINALLY a review that supports everything I feared about investing in this movie. I suspected the cinematography would be out of this world (hehehe) and the storyline….not so much!

  • Accipiter

    “Forgive me, but I’m tired of it. I want to be moved by something more than scenes of vast devastation. I need something more.”

    I personally felt a huge emotional pull from this movie, much more than just ‘scenes of vast devastation’.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I totally respect that. People are moved and inspired by different things. It could be a commercial, it could be a sitcom episode, it could be the latest Fast and Furious movie… somebody somewhere will be moved. A lot of people will be moved merely by the fact that Bullock plays a woman who lost a child.

  • Kevin E

    Absolutely a perfect review of a tedious, sophomoric, brilliantly photographed digital FX vanity piece that felt like it was written by a three-year-old (and not a very gifted one). Cuaron should absolutely give up any notion of writing his own films and stick to directing films written by talented writers with a gift for storytelling. Bullock was brilliant as she had absolutely nothing to do but inhabit a detestable, whiny character and, let’s be honest, most of us were praying she’d get killed off early on, yet we could endure her only because of her innate likability as a human (or perhaps that she got so publicly humiliated recently). Her flimsy back story failed to resonate and Clooney’s all too familiar Gablesque banter made one wish someone would ‘turn down the oxygen’ in the theater so we could ‘sleep’ until lights up at the end and the exit stampede saved us from this over priced yawner. What a waste of 19 bucks. Cudos to all the VFX wizzes for creating all the stunning imagery that Cuaron had absolutely nothing to do with. The emperor has a bevy of digital spacesuits but he certainly has no clothes. “Children of Men” was so dazzling that of course he’s forgiven, but someone needs to make sure he’s put under adult supervision before he takes pen to paper or fingers to keyboard again. Someone please revoke his license for Final Draft!

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I disagree. Cuaron has written good stuff in the past. He wrote the screenplays for Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien. I hope he does write again. This movie just needed more attention to the screenplay.

      • Kevin E

        You’re wrong here. Cuaron was one of FIVE writers who were CREDITED for Children of Men, meaning there could have been more who were uncredited. Directors routinely snatch undeserved credit for screenplays, Children of Men was also a novel, so in that movie’s case, his input as a ‘screenwriter’ was unknowable. Cuaron ‘owns’ the screenplay for “Gravity”. If he truly had talent as a writer (and I don’t think he does) he would have read his own screenplay and known it didn’t work. Absurd box office gross aside, the screenplay for “Gravity” was pathetic as it barely existed. As a director, he has few equals, but that doesn’t mean studios should give him a free pass on screenplays (unless he’s putting up his own money for the budget).

        • jeffreyoverstreet

          I know there were other writers involved. But it’s very interesting that you claim he wasn’t one of the actual writers, since I interviewed Cuaron in-person as he was promoting Children of Men and he answered questions about his work on the screenplay.

          And it was widely publicized that he talked about how he never read the novel, but took the premise of the novel and created a whole new story from it. It was quite controversial at the time.

        • Kevin E

          I never said he didn’t write on the screenplay, I just said that his work on it was unknowable. If you know about how WGA credit arbitration works, the fact that the WGA allowed 4 other writers to receive credit should tell you a lot. The novel, whether he read it or not, had a structure which I’m sure he used to work off of. “Gravity” had a horrible structure, was repetitive and the arcs, what little of them there were, were amateur. Screenwriting and directing are two different things, obviously. If you stripped away the phenomenal VFX from Gravity and set it somewhere else with some other obstacle (saying getting out of a mine that was caving in) but kept the same screenplay, its shortcomings would have been more readily apparent. It seems like you have re-thunk your review and now feel compelled to defend him as a writer. Don’t. His failings as a writer were what caused you to be disappointed with the film, not his failings as a director. He’s one of the best directors working today and of course I was being sarcastic about saying he should never ‘write’ but let’s call a lousy screenplay a lousy screenplay and be done with it.

  • GG

    Thank you for a well thought out, informative review. I, too, am suspicious when critics fall over themselves worshipping a new film like it’s the greatest film ever made, only to see another film the following week and declare that one the greatest ever made. It’s good to read a rational review of this movie.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Thanks! I admit that I did have strong emotions about the movie, and I know that there are moments in this review when my emotions get the upper hand. I’m only human.

  • jeffreyoverstreet

    Sorry, I’m in a hurry, so can’t say much.

    Didn’t mean to criticize Bullock. I just meant that all she’s given to play is “Woman in Distress,” and it seems like a waste of Bullock’s strengths as an actress. This film could have used more humor.

    Several reviewers have noted the films attempt to look “profound,” and I agree. It felt like it thought it was more thoughtful than it was. I don’t know what else to say… it’s how quite a few details struck me.

    I can’t imagine having so many resources to make a film about spacewalking and narrow your focus to frantic destruction without taking the opportunity to give them more opportunity to experience what I suspect 99.9% of spacewalkers experience. Go listen to the fantastic Radiolab episode on spacewalking. I got ten times more out of that than watching “Gravity.”

    • Mark Moring

      I concur that Bullock is best as a comic actress, but I don’t think Gravity could have used more humor. I’m still surprised she won an Oscar for The Blind Side, a solid but not fantastic performance. In that film, she was playing a stereotype (as a matter of fact, based on a real woman that, for all I’ve read, was just like that). But here, she was playing a character with no template (no real-life model), and I thought it was a much stronger acting job than Blind Side.

      As for the film’s “attempt” to look a certain way, again, I just don’t get all the personification. A film can only “try” to be what its creators are trying to make it to be — it might succeed or fail, depending on the creators’ execution of their vision, but the film, on its own, can’t attempt to be something it wasn’t meant to be. Right? Can a song “try” to be something other than what its writers intended? The listener can certainly *interpret* it in different ways, and one could argue that none of those interpretations are necessarily “wrong.” But that’s not because the song itself is *trying* to be something different than whatever the artist intended. The song just IS.

      As for “making a film about spacewalking,” I don’t think that’s what Cuaron intended. They wanted to make a movie about “frantic destruction.” Other movies/documentaries (like Hubble 3D, which Steven referenced in his review), have already shown the wonder of spacewalking. I suppose the Cuarons could’ve had our characters walking in space a *bit* longer before bad stuff started to happen, but he already had me mesmerized and slack-jawed with that 15-minute long single take at the beginning, in which I thought he’d already captured spacewalking beautifully. And then, of course, Shit Happened. All to say, if I want to learn more about spacewalking, yes, I’ll go to other sources — including that Radiolab episode. But I didn’t go to Gravity to learn more about spacewalking and its wonders. I went to Gravity to see a movie about what happens when spacewalking gets pummeled by debris flying 17,000 miles per hour. If you went to Gravity hoping for a movie all about spacewalking, I’d be surprised. That wasn’t what you were expecting, was it?

  • jeffreyoverstreet

    A reply to Rodrigo, who wrote to me and said this:

    “It’s bizarre that you would start off your review with a disclaimer that
    cheap shots won’t be tolerated but then go on to state: “…Congratulations, filmmakers. You found the single most obvious visual metaphor available to you”.

    Rodrigo, by “cheap shots” I mean comments that are just insults, not thoughtful responses.

    My comment about the metaphor was, yes, snarky, but it was in the context of a long article that is, in general, not a “cheap shot.”

    Still, I thank you for challenging me on it. I could have used a better tone. I’ve revised that bit so that I hope I make my point without being cheap.

    Then you wrote:

    And then suggest that the film will inspire teen pop-stars in their upcoming music videos. Many faults as the film may have, and it does, I would say it is a peg above the artistic output of Miley Cyrus.

    Well, I think it’s a peg above that too… several pegs, actually. It was more of an aside about the way Cyrus is talking about “taking inspiration” from cultural phenomenons and reducing them to lurid exhibitionism. A tangent, but not meant to say the film is equal to her sensationalism, no.

    You then said:

    I saw this film at 10:30 AM at the Arclight and even though I thought

    it was great, I agree that there is room for criticism. Clooney’s
    persona is too much; the dialogue could mostly be done away with; and
    the backstory feels tacked on. It wasn’t necessary and it cheapened the
    film.

    Agreed!

    Then you complained that I hadn’t posted your comment. Fact is, I don’t sit around and moderate comments all day. I’m extremely busy, and I drop in and moderate things here and there as I have opportunity, and in a somewhat haphazard order. By the time I got around to your comment, you were already complaining about censorship. Fact is: I work several jobs, and this isn’t one of them. If the lateness of my comment posting troubles anybody, the burden is on them to be patient, I’m afraid.

    So, again, thank you for calling me out on that one line. It needed attention.

  • Christine

    Why did I not read this before I paid to see this film?? My eyes are hitting maximum roll with all of these big budget movies with a great visual effort but the same actors delivering the same lines in long drawn out action or fight scenes!!? YAWN….
    I may as well go to an arcade than a movie theater.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I suspect we’ll see the Gravity video game any moment now…

  • Jake Schmeling

    Loved your take on “Gravity”…but seriously don’t make fun of “Jurassic Park”…it’s a classic!

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Oh, I agree!

  • j95lee

    I’ll probably watch the film, and enjoy it for what it is. A well executed Science Fiction film with great visuals and set pieces.

    I’m skeptical about whether it’s a masterpiece that deserves a 90% approval rating from review aggregators. Everyone praised “Avatar” to the sky, and it was a glorified “Independence Day”. I thought “Inception” was terrific, but the concept and the visual effects weren’t as groundbreaking as heralded.

    I’m also keenly aware of how American reviewers and movie goers tend to overrate movies that appear “Avant Garde” or “independent”. I honestly can’t stand most Asian language films, especially since I can actually understand what they’re saying.

    My only complaint of this review is that it’s terribly long, meaning haters with preconceived notions will have even more reason to read it selectively.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      I know. On my blog, I write long reviews. It’s been that way for more than 15 years. Some people like them. Some people don’t. It’s why I write novels, not short stories.

  • Simon Cooper

    I so agree. This film would not have existed without 2001 coming first, but Kubrick did it with imagination and poetry, that is the big difference.You cannot compare the two films. I could see 2001 another time but I would rather sleep than sit through Gravity again.

    • GG

      When I first saw the trailer for Gravity, I went “wee!” like I was on a ride.

  • Simon Cooper

    Thank God for this review, I was beginning to think I was crazy after all the raves.
    I also ENDURED this movie, like the reviewer and couldn’t wait for it to end.
    I have never been so happy and when it appeared the end was in sight.
    I felt nauseous, empty, dizzy…. but most of all BORED by a witless script and repetitive, pointless film.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      You sound a little like Richard Brody at The New Yorker, who was also bored. I sympathize.

  • tteague

    You can have your opinion, but it is arguable (and has been seriously argued by people far smarter than I) that The Tree of Life is one of the least boring films ever made.

  • Brady

    The composer’s name is Steven Price, not Pierce.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      THANK YOU. I wrote my review in a big hurry this morning. I appreciate the catch.

  • jeffreyoverstreet

    If you think The Tree of Life was the “most boring, pathetiic mish mash of a movie of all time” … well, we’re so different that we can’t really have a meaningful conversation about movies. It’s one of the most critically acclaimed motion pictures ever. It was on Roger Ebert’s all-time top ten list. I know people who have seen it a dozen times. And here are just a few of my comments on what you call “boring.” You are, of course, welcome to your opinion.

    • Mark Moring

      I agree with Jeffrey here, and I am typically NOT a Malick fan. But Jeffrey, I did chuckle when you noted that “it’s one of the most critically acclaimed motion pictures ever” in a blog post that begins by saying you’re in the minority in disliking a film that is, basically, one of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2013! ;-)

      • jeffreyoverstreet

        Well, in Tree of Life’s case, there are, literally, books written about the movie. And it’s on many of the most prestigious lists by critics and film-studies sites. By contrast, sure, Gravity has a very high RT rating… but that’s a little different. Let’s see how it holds up on All-Time Greats lists over time.

  • Don

    What about Ebert’s maxim, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it?” This review seems more concerned with the “what” than the “how.” It sounds like you would have preferred a story in which Clooney and Bullock hold hands and engage in meaningful conversation while gazing at the earth, with no pyrotechnics.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      The relentlessness, the busyness, the noise, the lack of character development, the chaos… all of this is about the “how”, and that’s exactly why I didn’t care for it.

      • Simon Cooper

        I agree, I felt dizzy and nauseous throughout the film, and I have never felt like that in any movie, plus it was NOT the 3D version.
        I found this movie sheer torture to sit through. By the way, WHERE was the script?

  • Mark Moring

    Hmm. I guess. Maybe? Maybe not? Yeah, a small minority. ;-)

    Isn’t part of the point of a film like this to subject us, the audience, to that kind of relentless terror? Aren’t we supposed to *feel* their danger? Isn’t it appropriate to cringe and grab our knees and “brace” repeatedly? The Tree of Life had its moments to “rest” and appreciate things of beauty and wonder, but that was an entirely different genre of movie. That was a contemplative, artsy drama; this was a high stakes, fast-paced (and also artsy, in its own way) action movie. That’s almost like saying the residents of Tokyo spent so much time running from Godzilla and his breath of fire and the collapsing buildings that we never paused to appreciate the beauty of the nearby mountains!

    This was more of a Godzilla movie than a contemplative Malick piece, so I don’t think you can “blame” it for not being something it had no intention of being. If I’m floating around untethered in outer space with my oxygen levels at 2%, I highly doubt if I’ll take a moment to say, “Isn’t the Earth just beautiful? Doesn’t it look marvelous from up here? Doesn’t it cause me to stare, slackjawed, in abject wonder?” No — and especially no if thousands of pieces of shrapnel are flying at me at a zillion miles per hour. I’m terrified, I’m on that roller coaster of terror, and there’s no moment to stop and appreciate the beauty. And yet . . .

    And yet Cuaron DID manage to work in awe and wonder through Clooney’s character, who kept his cool and DID marvel at the beauty of it all. So it’s not like that element was missing. Clooney’s life was in danger, and still he marveled — at the sunrise, at the sun’s reflection on the Ganges, at the beauty of it all. Bullock’s life was in danger, and she didn’t — which made sense, since she wasn’t a veteran astronaut, but “just” a doctor on her first ever space mission. It made sense that she’d panic and not stop to gaze in wonder.

    I also think there was more character development than you gave credit for, especially for Bullock’s character. Yes, some of it was cliched, but what *other* way is a woman supposed to act other than the “Basic Woman in Distress” template, when, in fact, said woman is in constant distress? What’s the “Non-Basic Woman in Distress” template look like? What would have been some “outside-the-box” ways of reacting to the very real possibility that you could die at any moment? I want my women in distress to act like women in distress. They can’t all act like Ripley and shoot flamethrowers at Nasty Mama Alien.

    You mentioned United 93, and I agree, a great film about a terrifying experience. But unless I’m forgetting something, I don’t remember any moments where that film paused for “awe and wonder.” There was some good character development, but for the most part, I also felt like I was on a terrifying roller coaster ride the whole time, with my head between my knees and the flight attendant yelling “Brace, brace, brace!” I’m just not sure why that relentless terror was OK in that movie (a true story) but not here (a fictional one).

    You noted that after the opening minutes, you felt you were only “enduring” the rest of it. I’m not sure that’s a bad reaction for a movie like this. I think Cuaron wanted us to feel like we were right there with them in outer space, exposed to relentless, unimaginable dangers, and thus we should feel like we, like the characters, ARE indeed enduring a hellish ride. I squirmed and cringed many times during the film — perfectly appropriate reactions for this kind of movie.

    Finally, I think it’s totally awesome that you wrote “shit” in a movie review on the evangelical channel. High five for that. Heh. Things you never would’ve gotten away with at CT. ;-)

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Wow, where to start?

      Paragraph 1: If this were supposed to be enjoyed like a Godzilla movie, it wouldn’t have kept putting on a semblance of “deep-thoughtness” … like the spirituality-ness of the prayer talk and the Buddha statue. I think the movie really *wants* to be seen as profound. But it doesn’t have enough actual thoughtfulness from the storytellers. I would have felt much more actual suspense if I’d found characters convincing and sympathetic. Instead I found figures with less thought put into them than a lot of video game avatars.

      Paragraph 2: The shrapnel attacks very quickly struck me as merely preposterous. Such a huge planet, so much space, and yet everywhere they go they’re constantly in the path of the high-speed aftermath, as if space is directing them right into the blasts? Didn’t buy it. Started muttering, “Aaaaaand, now’s a good time for another SHRAPNEL WAVE!”

      Paragraph 3: Having a character pause to say “Terrific” about a sunrise doesn’t fill me with awe. Having him comment about the sun on the Ganges just made me almost say out loud, “Please, can we see what you’re seeing for a while? Please?”

      Paragraph 4: I didn’t pick up much more character development than “I know, how ’bout she’s lost a baby?” “How shall we work that into her character?” “Oh, just have her mention it. And then underline it with her own umiblical cord and fetal position shots.” Sorry. Didn’t work for me.

      Paragraph 5: United 93′s subject was a historical event, the pressure that the people went through, etc. This film keeps indicating that its subject is bigger than that, and then having very little to fulfill that promise.

      Paragraph 6: I don’t mean I “endured” in a good way. I mean that I “endured” like I’m at a concert where the band confuses blasting dissonance with meaningful rock and roll. If I had found the crises to be plausible, happening to characters I’d come to care about, I would have cared enough to endure the way I endure with Frodo and Samwise through Mordor. But the film seemed to have run out of ideas, so it was just then a matter of time toward a conclusion where I knew quite certainly what would happen.

      Paragraph 7: Hadn’t given my vocabulary, or the “channel,” a second thought. Wouldn’t want anyone to have the impression I consider that something to be congratulated about. But sure, I suppose it might seem unusual to readers of primarily evangelical writing. (And as I don’t consider myself an “evangelical,” I find my categorization on Patheos a bit annoying. But as they must brand their writers with denominational categories, I’m stuck with it.)

  • balashi

    I’ll admit the preposterousness of the events started to wear toward the end… even so, not every movie is going to perfectly blend effects and story… sometimes that’s just fine with me. After a horrendous summer of overblown movies like MAN OF CRAP, STAR DRECK, WORLD WAR ZZZZZ, and DRONE-ON RANGER…. I was perfectly pleased with this movie that balanced wicked action with subtle character arc. Will I remember the amazing story? Of course not – in fact, I thought Bullock’s otherwise fine performance fell apart in the last 10 minutes… but I don’t care – that’s not why I went to this movie. I went for an amazing 3D experience, and I got it … and I’m gonna have to take you to task about the film score – I thought it was frekkin outstanding!

    • Simon Cooper

      What score? I don’t remember any music at all, I was too busy trying not to fall asleep and not to throw up.

    • Mark Moring

      Balashi, please don’t mention World War Z in the same sentence as those other three. I thought that was a terrific film. (But I hadn’t read the book. Friends who had read the book tell me I would’ve been quite disappointed.)

  • http://cincinnatusploughsare.blogspot.com/ J.A.A. Purves

    … “Going to the Feelies this evening, Henry?” enquired the Assistant Predestinator. “I hear the new one at the Alhambra is first-rate. There’s a love scene on a bearskin rug; they say it’s marvelous. Every hair of the bear reproduced. The most amazing tactual effects.”

    … The house lights went down; fiery letters stood out solid and as though self-supported in the darkness. THREE WEEKS IN A HELICOPTER . AN ALL-SUPER-SINGING, SYNTHETIC-TALKING, COLOURED, STEREOSCOPIC FEELY. WITH SYNCHRONIZED SCENT-ORGAN ACCOMPANIMENT.

    “Take hold of those metal knobs on the arms of your chair,” whispered Lenina. “Otherwise you won’t get any of the feely effects.”

    The Savage did as he was told.

    Those fiery letters, meanwhile, had disappeared; there were ten seconds of complete darkness; then suddenly, dazzling and incomparably more solid-looking than they would have seemed in actual flesh and blood, far more real than reality, there stood the stereoscopic images …

    The Savage started. That sensation on his lips! He lifted a hand to his mouth; the titillation ceased; let his hand fall back on the metal knob; it began again …

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Thank you so much for this. Brave New World, indeed.

  • ledance123

    I don’t mind people who don’t like a popular film, it’s good that people don’t follow what others say, however, I feel like the review loses a lot of it’s integrity when the writer tries to force humor, this is a very good film, no doubt about it, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion, people won’t feel the same way as other people do, but at the same time, humor like this only works on truly awful films, because they’re laughably bad enough to make jokes at, for films like this which are good, just not for everyone, the humor just seems contrived and uneasy, at the end of the day, one person’s opinion doesn’t matter, it also gives a good idea of who this film appeals to, but people want to read a sincere review, not one which has to lean on humor to try and avoid the fact that many people who don’t see it from the reviewers point of view will slam him just for having a different opinion

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Yay, commas!

  • Ed Oz

    Excellent review! I am sure you will be slammed for going against the grain – but that is why I came from Rotten Tomatoes – because you were the lone voice with criticism. Excellent writing kept me interested through the entire article. Thanks for your honesty in a world of back scratchers….

    • Simon Cooper

      This is the man who was not afraid to say The Emperor has no clothes!!!
      It was a bore and in some ways reminded me of Tree of Life, another movie that went nowhere but which many critics praised.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Thanks, Ed. Looking around, I’m finding several other reviewers who had similar experiences. I’m also finding plenty of support from readers of this site. I hope some of them go and publish their own reviews!

  • Will

    Thanks for dissenting; not just to be the voice of dissent but to offfer what I think is an important perspective. A movie that represents a step forward in special effects (or anything else) should be hailed for that but not elevated to the level of a great movie just because of that one (albeit impressive) step forward.
    I remember well the rave reivews for Avatar which similarly lauded the movie for it’s special effects and the feel of the movie. Upon seeing the movie I was struck by the fact that while those things were true the movie was a torrent of cliches that were jsut dressed up with great sets and special effects. In other words: not a great movie but a great exhibition of special effects. Two very different ideas. Academy awards for special effects – rotten tomatoes for screenwriting….so not a great movie overall.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Thanks, Will!

  • Jimmy Takeson

    I think this reviewer’s perpective is seriously flawed.

    This is not yet another eye-candy, crowd-pleaser, but a marvel of camerabatics, of visual choreography, animation and physical acting. Anyone who undestands the technical craft of filmmakings knows this film is a true splendour of cinematic excellence.

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Try reading my review, and you might find that I say — repeatedly — that the “camerabatics”, animation, and physicality are all very impressive. But I ask more from a movie than “technical craft.”

      • Rohit Gupta

        Most of the movies that are made, especially sci-fi are about situations which have near zero possibility of happening. Children of Men is one of probably 10^6 possibilities of the state of world in that year, still its a fine movie. I don’t really understand why you have been emphasizing so much about the improbability (and not it being impossible) of the event in being critical of it.

        Also, I disagree with the opinion that every movie should be excelling in all the departments. While a movie like Before Sunrise can be a great movie, so can a movie like Eternal Sunshine (non-real life like story). Trying to judge all the movies from the same lens is a bit restrictive to appreciate the whole range of cinema produced worldwide.

        • jeffreyoverstreet

          Rohit: Improbability can be portrayed effectively, and I applaud when it’s pulled off well. But improbability that is not portrayed in a way that suspends my disbelief is, for me, a problem. All through this movie, I just kept thinking, “But… why not this? And why that?” Which was one of many elements that kept me from being drawn in.

          And I never said every movie must excel in all departments. But I am disappointed when a filmmaker who has proven his greatness time and time again ends up delivering something in which the neglect to one aspect of the film ends up distracting from, and complicating, the parts that are done well. I’m not judging all movies through the same lens. But I’m asking, “Isn’t there something suspicious about the fact that a film fueled by so much talent and so many resources would end up so insubstantial compared to something shot in eight weeks with no budget and no special effects?” It makes me think about what the film could have been with just a little more attention. That’s all.

          Believe me, I know the value of fantasy films like Eternal Sunshine, which is one of my all-time favorites. I’m a fantasy novelist… I know the challenges of drawing an audience in, and making them “believe” improbably things for a while.

        • Rohit Gupta

          Fair points. I am going to watch the movie tonight in IMAX. I hope my 20 bucks are not wasted. I will be able to comment about the content only after that. So far I had a few grumblings against the premise on which you were criticizing the movie, which you have done well to clarify it.

    • Rey

      I agree. 15 minutes into the film he detached himself from it. More than the special effects, the emotions conveyed by the movie’s theme of the will to survive was the most powerful part of the film.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X