Monday, March 03, 2014


So, "12 Years A Slave" beat out the realistic science fiction survival epic "Gravity" last night for Best Picture at the Oscars.


I couldn't bear to watch the Oscars beyond 10 p.m. last night out of fear the over-blown "Gravity" would take home the big prize, thus becoming the 2014 version of "Crash." Because "Gravity" is a dumb film. Dumb, dumb, dumb. It is as stupid and nonsensical as any Michael Bay explosion-fest, but unlike, say, a moronic film like "Armageddon" that knows and accepts the fact that it is dumb, "Gravity" is the cinematic equivalent of the classroom dunce who starts wearing glasses to look smarter.

Director Alfonso Cuarón certainly knows how to put together a pretty film. He had a state-of-the-art light box filled with LEDs in order to realistically simulate the 360-degree tumbling an untethered astronaut would experience in space. He dusted off a cool piece of 1980s NASA technology, the MMU, so George Clooney would have a nifty jetpack to go swooping around the space shuttle in. He spent a tremendous amount of effort getting all the little details right, then turned right around and shat all over the Big Picture.

Look, I don't really care that there isn't really a Chinese space station circling the Earth, nor that the ISS and Hubble Telescope don't share anywhere near the same orbits. I'll buy that--this is an alternative reality, and in some other timeline the decision may well have been made to put these massive objects in close proximity to make servicing missions easier. Maybe all the space stations share the same orbit specifically to make emergency rescues more viable. I don't know. But it can be justified, even if improbably so. I'm fine with that. I'll even accept the cascading cloud of space debris--that's the Macguffin that gets the ball rolling, after all.

But then Cuarón chunks all his hard-won world-building out the window. Objects in space are moving targets, okay? That means they wouldn't be in the same location for said cascading debris cloud to come flying back every 90 minutes to pound them. And debris clouds expand (the term is "diffusion") so even if Sandra Bullock and George Clooney were stationary targets (which they weren't--they're orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes as well, see?) the debris cloud would be so diffuse as to pass unnoticed. But no, having the same cloud come back to illogically menace our heroes proved an irresistible bit of false jeopardy Cuarón couldn't resist, effectively turning the film into a stalker film in space. I hated when they did that to "Sunshine," and I hated it here as well. But it doesn't end there. Any last vestiges of goodwill, of doubt I was willing to give "Gravity" the benefit of, vanished when Clooney, holding onto a tether connecting him to the ISS, let go and plummeted to Earth in a noble, heroic sacrifice. Except, what would really have happened was that Clooney would just continue to float there, looking fairly foolish. Inertia is a bitch. Cuarón wanted Clooney to make a heroic sacrifice--one that left a slight possibility of his survival, so Hallucinatory Ghost Clooney could come back and tell Bullock how to save herself--but couldn't be bothered to come up with something realistic. It's easier fake emotionally dramatic episodes than actually make them plausible. You know another film that casually inserted random directional gravity into an otherwise zero-G scene? "Wing Commander," when the space bulldozer pushes the wreck space fighter off the space carrier's flight deck. The wrecked space fighter falls like a stone--just like Clooney does. Yes, you heard me right--"Gravity" is film making on the same level as "Wing Commander." Only "Gravity" had a bigger budget.

Why am I so harsh on "Gravity"? After all, I like big, dumb films. The difference is, "Gravity" is pretentious. It positions itself as a smart, "realistic" film that puts it in the company of "The Right Stuff," "Apollo 13" and even more overtly science fictional classics such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" (and yes, while those first two aren't SF, they are undeniably the peers "Gravity" aspires to rub shoulders with). But again, "Gravity" is far, far dumber than it's betters, more in keeping with turkeys like "The Core." Hell, even "Avatar" with its derivative plot and rubber science is far more consistent in its world building than "Gravity" can ever hope to be. "Gravity" lies. It pretends to be something it is not. While most of the film-going public are buying that particular brand of snake oil, I cannot get past it.

But aside from that (and folks far smarter than I have annotated the film's scientific missteps to unbelievable length), "Gravity" fails simply because Cuarón--who wrote the damn thing, after all--doesn't care. He wants to give the impression that he cares, but doesn't want to actually do the heavy lifting. Otherwise he would've given us actual characters, other than thinly-written Generic Clooney and Generic Bullock characters. Instead, smarmy Clooney mugs for the camera and weepy, doe-eyed Bullock is defined by her womb. That last big of unfortunate misogyny continues throughout the film--why else show off Bullock's legs in such gratuitous fashion? There's no more reason for that than the much-maligned T&A shot from "Star Trek: Into Darkness." But defining women by their womb seems to be a habit of Cuarón's--he did this throughout his other overrated film, "Children of Men," which turned into little more than a thinly-veiled "Logan's Run" remake. Want evidence that Cuarón simply doesn't care about the big issues he injects into his films? When the Clive Owen character, who is trying to get the pregnant woman (SHE'S GOT A WOMB! AND IT WORKS!) to Sanctuary (or Iceland, whatever) someone challenges him with the question of the cause of worldwide infertility. Owen's telling response? "It doesn't matter." Bullshit. That's the only thing that matters, otherwise, the pregnant lady gives birth and it's a one-off. Without knowing the cause, any single pregnant woman is absolutely meaningless. Maybe it's not the woman at all, but one man, somewhere, who has viable sperm? Those three words uttered by Owen show a deep and profound disinterest in the topic Cuarón has chosen to build a film around. A persistent shallow thinking, and a refusal to consider the issue at a deeper level. Cuarón wrote those words, and they are very telling.

What does Cuarón care about? Metaphor. Metaphor. Metaphor. I think he might like metaphor, too. That, and eyeball kicks. He's very good at those.

Oh, and did I mention "Gravity" is misogynystic? Well, it is misogynystic. There's a lot more discussion on this out there in internet-land if you're interested.

Despite this, I still think Cuarón is a talented director. His "Prisoner of Azkaban" is still, for me at least, by far the best film in the Harry Potter series. "Great Expectations" is lovely and stylish with fantastic performances from the cast, while "Y Tu Mamá También" is a powerful, gripping emotional roller-coaster. So Cuarón is a talented director who is a shit writer, at least where deeper understanding of his subject matter comes into play.

But then again, I don't really know anything about film. I have this on good authority from folks who shouted me down for having the nerve to suggest that "Man of Steel" might not become the first super-hero movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Oh, wait. Look at that, "Man of Steel" didn't win, either. Imagine that.

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1 comment:

  1. Geez, Jayme, tell us how you really feel! :D