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October 22, 2013

Gravity ***SPOILERS***
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 05:58 PM *

A science fiction movie with a 97% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Doyle and I saw it yesterday.

I guess everyone liked the unicorns in space suits powered by cinnamon-bun unicorn farts and rainbows.


Comments on Gravity ***SPOILERS***:
#1 ::: PJ Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:05 PM:

Were they sparkly unicorns?

#2 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:19 PM:

Ninety freakin' minutes of unicorn sparkles moving at great speeds.

There isn't any sound in space, or air with which to play woodwinds (as the opening titles are at pains to tell us), but there certainly is a symphony orchestra.

#3 ::: Aquila1nz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:20 PM:

I felt the dead daughter was unnecessary, and there were a few too many action movie last gasp of oxygen/last burst of fuel/last moment to close the hatch/last possible handhold to grab for my suspension of disbelief.

But it was very pretty and wow in 3D. And very real and non pretty in places too - I liked things like the camera looking through the vapour inside her helmet and the droplets and other detritus floating in the stations. Pity the astronauts were unbelievably pretty.

The mechanics of the story felt like good scifi, much better than Elysium's, but I'm not sold on the rising from the primal ooze metaphor at the end.

#4 ::: jeffy ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:24 PM:

I keep catching myself wondering how that world is getting along without all their satellites. And pondering how you'd go about tidying up LEO.

#5 ::: Paul (@princejvstin) ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:30 PM:

I am not sure the Hallucination Clooney is strictly necessary, either.

#6 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:36 PM:

I stand by my comments a few days ago. It didn't need 3D (for my money, no movie does, no matter how much the theatre/studio/director really thinks it's the best idea since film emulsion), and it might be nice if they sold you your ticket with a shot of hard liquor. That's a hell of a tense ride for 90 minutes; my GF and I saw it with a couple friends, and those of us who drink all wanted a cocktail or two afterward.

Absolutely gorgeous movie though.

#7 ::: Dan Lewis ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:52 PM:

My worst moment for disbelief was closing the hatch to the onrushing fireball. Cliche action heroism, not looking at explosions. The same feeling when detaching the lander while the station is blowing apart.

The effects were super awesome. I don't want to know how they did them. (I want to be fooled.)

The critical scientists that say "you could never really change orbital planes from hubble to the space station" are missing the point and should have imagined the action taking place in a parallel universe with minor differences from ours.

Most people I talked to judged this movie based on their own feelings about space they brought into the theater. I felt the movie was about the fragility of the works of humanity, but I am also aware that I was probably bringing that in with me.

#8 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 06:59 PM:

Yes, my disbelief suspenders were stretched a few times. Would there really be that much glowing visible debris coming so fast, or would most of it have been invisible in the blackness of space until it was either right on top of you or it hit the atmosphere?

But well worth seeing.

#9 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 07:59 PM:

The 3-D ("Real 3D" ™) didn't work for me. At all.

The spacecraft seemed to be in front of the astronauts, the astronauts bodies in front of their arms, and the clouds closest to me.

Even knowing how the layers should be, and consciously trying to make them work, didn't work.

When Ryan was seated in the escape craft, the seat behind her seemed to be floating in front of her.

Closing one eye helped. Taking off the glasses also made everything work in perspective, even though the picture became blurry (though a lot brighter).

I didn't try wearing the glasses upside down. Maybe next time I'll think of trying that.

Maybe there was something wrong with the glasses. The preview for 47 Ronin also looked like crap.

I do have other comments.

#10 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 08:50 PM:

We saw it in 2D, at my insistence. I gave up on the idea of watching a fast-moving 3D movie (that was not a cartoon) after I had trouble focusing on Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which was not fast-paced.

So... comsats are in geosynchronous orbits, and the Shuttle, Hubble, ISS, et cetera, are in low earth orbits. How could anything have an orbit that would allow for the destruction of both categories?

#11 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 09:09 PM:

Neat touches: When Ryan needed a miracle, we get a shot of a St. Christopher icon. When she needs incredible luck, we get a statue of the smiling Buddha. In two different escape capsules.

Something I didn't understand: When Ryan's foot is entangled in the parachute lines, and Matt is attached to her, and they're both dead in space relative to each other and to the ISS, where did the vector come from to make him drift away after he detaches? I understand that it was the Pull of the Plot (if he stayed around being omni-competent, it would have been a shorter movie with lots less drama).

#12 ::: PJ Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 09:24 PM:

I think they're relying on people not knowing that. Or orbital mechanics.

#13 ::: Sam Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 09:32 PM:

I recommend seeing it at the largest screen possible at the first showing of the morning (on a weekday if possible). Oh and with the newest Dolby Atmos if possible. Did that for logistical reasons and an empty theater for this show deeply enhances the emptiness of space. Leave your inner physicist at home, but I did read one posting from one of the astronauts that they got a lot right.

#14 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 10:04 PM:

Ok, you guys have convinced me. This movie is obviously the worst piece of cinematic crap ever and the seeing of it would be an excruciatingly painful experience in which I was continually pulled out of the moment and brought face to face with how badly the movie was made and thought out overall.

I'm definitely not going to see it.

#15 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 10:08 PM:

Sorry, but when I see a movie has as many complaints as a Michael Bay extravaganza leveled at it then I think either that movie is as bad as a Michael Bay extravaganza or the people doing the complaining are in some need of perspective - 3D that is.

#16 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 10:16 PM:

Jim Macdonald @ 9: What you're describing sounds like a systemic failure of the theatre's 3D setup; I'd guess that whoever set up the projector got its inputs flipped, because that's exactly the opposite of a good 3D percept.

#17 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 10:28 PM:

Bryan, what on earth are you talking about?

I mean, "...well worth seeing," "the effects were super awesome...", "absolutely gorgeous movie...."?

#18 ::: Aquila1nz ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2013, 10:36 PM:

Or maybe it's just that when a movie gets things mostly right people look more closely at the science than when the whole thing is built from handwavium.

The science advisor for the movie has said that the continued drifting away after making contact may be a bit of an oops:

#19 ::: J. L. Mandelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 12:13 AM:

For me the disbelief suspension failed very early: They're in a 90 minute orbit, but are told by Mission Control that the missile test has cleared the orbit of satellites ("all of them", even) only a few minutes after the missile strike. And then all the cliffhangers one after the other kept me from regaining submersion in the story's world. I think that detracted -- it felt like there was almost nothing in the "story" except for jumps from one emergency to the next.

Great visuals and effects, except for not having floaty hair in microgravity. (If you haven't seen this phenomenon before, it's worth browsing through some of the ISS videos on youtube to see it.) Even though it wasn't immersive, I quite enjoyed it as a showcase of visual effects craftwork, and considered it well worth the time and price for that.

I'd like to hear from some professionals on the science. Can a spacewalk jetpack do the kind of things the commander's did? Would hanging from the ISS by a strap produce enough centrifugal force that he couldn't be pulled in and have to de-strap? Would Tiangong re-enter in this situation? (And if so, why?) "Science of Gravity" makes a terrible search term though!

#20 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 01:01 AM:

Not an astronaut, but I do work with satellites from my safe office on the ground.

The jetpack was speculative. They mention at the beginning of the movie that's it's a prototype. It had much more delta vee than anything we've got now, so it had a longer range and more thrust than a real EVO pack.

I'm not sure why Clooney was pulled away from the ISS. Might have been microgravity or exoatmospheric drag -- the very first touches of the atmosphere slowing him down. But it looked like he was being pulled sideways, not down. There should be almost no centrifugal force from the ISS, unless it was spinning after being blasted with debris but it didn't look like that was the case. I'm blaming a necessary plot force.

Tiangong would not re-enter just because it's been hit by debris. Objects in that orbit will stay up for ten years or more after being abandoned. Maybe if something big hit it hard enough to knock it downward, but that would destroy the space station.

In all, I thought it was a pretty movie and an interesting character study, even though parts of it were unbelievable. I don't think it deserves the hype it's getting nor any Oscar other than special effects.

#21 ::: Jordin ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 02:20 AM:

Jim @ 11
Matt was being pulled away by dramatic tension. The parachute lines were only rated to a load of 5000 Dramatic Newtons (500 kgfd or 1100 lb-D in English units) and were clearly being overloaded.

#22 ::: J. L. Mandelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 02:41 AM:

Remus Shepherd @ 20:

Thanks for the answers! It's too bad they didn't bother to devise a reason for him to be pulled away from the station, with zero-g playing so prominently for the rest of the movie. Like a puncture venting air off-center causing the station to spin. Then the ISS interior scenes would get more interesting, with the "gravity" being less the closer to the spin axis, and visible coriolis effects.

#23 ::: Jordin ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 03:13 AM:

J. L. Mandelson @ 19 and various others
I'm also not an astronaut, but I spent a good part of my career designing satellite systems (and the one time I did have occasion to visit Johnson Space Center I ended up with four astronauts in my car when we went out for lunch).

There are *lots* of errors in the movie, including the mysterious destruction of GEO comsats by a LEO debris storm, even if you postulate that the movie is happening in an alternate universe where there's a Chinese space station and Hubble shares an orbit with ISS.

Just to mention one that I haven't seen elsewhere: in orbit, you can't just aim at a distant object and fly to it in a straight line, unless the trip takes a very small fraction of an orbital period. But your average movie audience probably wouldn't understand why the astronauts were aiming for a spot 90 degrees away from where they wanted to end up...

If they'd wanted a legitimate reason for *all* the communications systems going down at once, they'd have done better to use either a nuclear EMP burst (perhaps from a terrorist attack) or a large Solar event. But then they couldn't have had ridiculously visible* debris coming around every 90 minutes and blowing stuff up.

*For the debris to be approaching at a large angle to their trajectory, it would need to have a relative velocity of several km/s, or perhaps 10 times the speed of a rifle bullet. The debris should have been harder to see than the bullets flying past people's heads in war movies.

But the movie managed to make me not worry about most of the errors while I was actually watching, which is a pretty impressive achievement.

Not sure I could watch it again and enjoy it nearly as much, though; without the tension of not knowing what will happen, I'd probably be mentally picking nits every few seconds...

#24 ::: Leslie Turek ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 08:23 AM:

Jordin @ 21. "Pulled away by dramatic tension"! Perfect answer! I hated that one thing, since the whole plot hinges on the sacrifice, and up till then they had been reasonably accurate about movement in space. And the sacrifice should not have been necessary. But I saw it in 3D and loved the visuals. Definitely sensa wonder territory.

#25 ::: Joe Holmes ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 10:24 AM:

I'll take a stab at these:

>> When Ryan's foot is entangled in the parachute lines, and Matt is attached to her, and they're both dead in space relative to each other and to the ISS, where did the vector come from to make him drift away after he detaches?

My impression was that the two of them were actively moving away from the ISS and gradually slipping out of the parachute lines. The momentum of Clooney plus Bullock was enough to pull them both free. Only if Clooney was released to continue to float away would Bullock be held back by the lines.

>> you can't just aim at a distant object and fly to it in a straight line

Unless the two of you are in a synchronous orbit together, right? Then your relative movement together through space would allow it to appear as though you could travel in a straight line.

That said, anyone who didn't enjoy the film because of obscure technical flaws really needs to get out to the movies more often.

#26 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 10:32 AM:

I saw Gravity when it first came out and went in with zero expectations. I take that back. I went into it knowing it wouldn't be a Science Training Film for Future Astronauts. I came out knowing it's a movie about science and disasters for people who know nothing about science.

It's also a really good Man vs. Nature movie. The only thing that matches it in my mind is Jack London's short story "To Build A Fire".

I had a few Fridge Logic moments after the movie. I also had a couple of "No Fricken' Way" moments -- all during the hallucination sequence. So my willing suspension of disbelief remained pretty much intact.

Yes, I've seen hair in microgravity, but her's was cut mannishly short so it didn't bother me during the movie. It was an acceptable bit of science handwavium for me because what hair she did have was fluffy after she took the skull cap off. As a constant wearer of hats, it passed the sniff test for me. Until Fridge Logic kicked in and the thought "Wouldn't her hair be sweaty and stuck to her head after all the panicked exertions?"

3D was the only local option I had. I don't like 3D movies because 1) I hate having things thrown at me (and too many directors go the juvenile route of trying to make the audience jump.) 2) unless there is extreme depth of field with enough breadth for perspective in the shot, it looks no different than well shot 2D. 3) 2D conversions into 3D leave the movie looking like the shoebox dioramas I had to make in grade school for book reports. (I gave 3D six or eight tries before finally giving up on it.)

However... the 3D for this movie actually made me happy. It was all about the depth and breadth of field.

#27 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 10:43 AM:

I loved it, and 3D Imax worked for me without making me sick. And I even imagined that the chinese station had been scuttled somehow. And believed in spacecraft with handholds all over them. But here's my addition to all the complaints:

Microgravity is only in effect when you're not accelerating in any direction. So when Bullock is maneuvering one of those pods, a pencil is not going to be floating in midair. Or rather, it is going to be floating, and the pod is going to whomp right into it.

Every damn time she pushed her helmet out of the way and just left it unsecured out of frame, I couldn't help thinking "That's going to hurt like hell when you turn on the rockets and it starts bouncing around."

#28 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 11:29 AM:

And why the hell wasn't she wearing her helmet during renetry? I mean, you know, that seems like an obvious opportunity for containment failure. Or, you know, fire. And also: why blow the hatch the minute she hit the surface? Aren't rentry vehicles designed so you just hang out and wait for retrieval?

#29 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 12:41 PM:

Because cinematography and plot pacing?

Those are errors I can almost get behind based on a) mission specialist, not having had all this drummed into one's head for 5 years, and b) not functioning particularly well after many hours of complete clusterf*** and thus unable to make good risk assessments about getting killed by planet earth vs getting killed by suit or spacecraft.

#30 ::: Jordin ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 12:54 PM:

Joe @ 25
No, even if you're in the same orbit with another object, the vector between you and the object keeps changing -- it rotates once per orbit. If you push off towards something that's ahead of you, you'll move forward, but 20 minutes later "forward" will have turned into "up"; 45 minutes later "forward" will be "back", and 90 minutes later you'll be (almost) back where you started.

Jacque @ 29
Soyuz capsules are designed to touch down on land, not water, and the reentry capsule has a very limited air supply on its own, so standard procedure for Soyuz landings probably does involve opening the hatch promptly. That said, there's almost certainly a water-landing emergency procedure for Soyuz that doesn't result in the crew going down with the ship.

#31 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 06:24 PM:

The orbital mechanics of catching up to something in your same orbit are a bit of a mess. You can't accelerate along your orbit. Any acceleration puts you into a new orbit, which may move you closer in and faster, or further out and slower. Then you can let it catch up to you, or you it, and then transfer back to the original orbit.

Details left as an exercise.

#32 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 09:24 PM:

Jacque @28.

If I counted the bullets correctly* the lack of helmet was due to being out of suit air. She didn't have time to refill and/or swap air tanks and was relying on capsule air to live.

As for blowing the hatch the minute she reached the surface, a short caused by an impact started a fire in the module during the descent. It was either pop the hatch, or die of smoke inhalation.

I have to ask, was anyone else half-amused, half-annoyed by her pulling a Wall-E move with the fire extinguisher?

* a lot of movies have a six-shooter with a twenty round magazine. Semiautomatics and automatics in movies usually have a clip-of-holdling installed.

#33 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 09:32 PM:

This film was one that worked on all four levels* of the quadriga, and this, I think, is why it got that 97% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

* Literal, moral, allegorical, anagogical.

#34 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 11:50 PM:

Jacque @28, Victoria @32: I was puzzled about that too. Because she didn't remove her suit first, I figured that she didn't expect the capsule to take on water and sink when she opened the maybe she just wanted some fresh air? The air pressure inside the capsule is probably a fair bit lower than the outside pressure at sea level, which means the capsule with the door closed weighs a lot less than the capsule with the door open, even before it takes on water. So you could look out the window at the water level and figure that opening the door is safe, and then get an ugly surprise as your draft jumps and water comes rushing in. Maybe?

That's a reach, though.

The fire makes more sense. That would explain both the opening of the hatch and the urgency of doing so before even preparing for the swim that would follow. It's also a nice homage to Liberty Bell 7.

#35 ::: Laertes ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2013, 11:52 PM:

Er, to be clear, I meant that the sinking capsule was a fun link to an actual mission outcome. The fire in the capsule isn't without precedent either, but I wouldn't speak so lightly of that ghastly tragedy.

#36 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 02:10 AM:

Pfusand@10 - Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Wim Wenders's dance movie Pina* are my standards for "3D is sometimes really the right choice", along with some of the National Geographic IMAX stuff. But if the 3D systems don't work with your vision, yeah, it'd be annoying.

My first exposure to the stuff other than red-green movie glasses was those virtual reality game things in the mall back in the late 70s; the helmet didn't fit me right, so the eye pieces weren't at the right angle, and I ended up getting vertigo problems as well as getting killed by pterodactyls a lot.

(* Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost!)

#37 ::: GarrettC ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 11:16 AM:

@3: I share many of your complaints, and many of the complaints from the rest of the thread, but I still just enjoyed the heck out of watching the movie. I liked that the story dared to be so very thin, and visually... I watched in regular D, but wow.

I thought the dead daughter seemed like a plot contrivance of "hey, she's a woman, and women need babies to be sympathetic!" But it also had a little thematic resonance with the character's own re-birth. She wasn't climbing out of the primordial muck at the end, in my reading. She was taking her first steps. We'd already seen her, earlier, in a fairly explicit fetal state, then learning to speak (such that she could hardly shut up by the climax), and then her first steps.

There were several things I wish they'd tried harder to create natural tension for. It seemed entirely stupid for Good Astronaut Clooney to go out of his way to retrieve the body of somebody who was confirmed dead (and whose inertia would make it harder for him to steer with) while he was dragging somebody who was confirmed ALIVE as long as her 1% oxygen levels held out. I quite dislike when intelligent, competent characters do the least intelligent possible thing in a moment when the correct course of action is clear just so the plot oxygen can drain just a little bit more. Take her to the ship! Now! She needs air! You need to escape! As soon as possible! The clock is ticking! Those extra rocket boosts won't come in handy anytime soon, I'm sure! Leave Floating Debris Man to float, as debris!

And, yes, there were entirely too many last moment of possible escape moments. I had a fair groan when she escaped the fire by way of extraordinarily precise fire extinguisher propulsion through extremely narrow corridors.

And the emergency itself didn't make sense, and it was obvious the film-makers didn't care WHY the destruction was happening (I mean, the script literally set up the destruction plot with several seconds of "The Russians did it! Spy satellite! Debris! The Russians!")

And yet... I still really, really liked watching it.

#38 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 04:22 PM:

Victoria @32: I have to ask, was anyone else half-amused, half-annoyed by her pulling a Wall-E move with the fire extinguisher?

I was rather tickled by that, especially from a non-rocket-pilot. Though she was clearly calculating her vectors and aiming using Hackwriter's Gambit. (Trying to balance on the nozzle and accelerate without wasting all your ΔV on spin would be...a challenge.)

#39 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 06:05 PM:

GarrettC and others

After reading Degrasse-Tyson's tweets it occurred to me the point of the plot is literally "Shit Happens (and Happens and Happens and Happens), but LOOK, an astronaut survived the disasters that took place in outer space and re-entry!"

I've read in a couple of different places that some scientists and researchers are complaining that Science Fiction authors, movie makers and TV shows aren't giving them enough inspiration anymore. Perhaps Gravity is a subtle endorsement for more space flight? "You, too, can survive space disasters with a little moxy and a couple of handy manuals." *

As weird as that sounds, there is research on optimism that supports people who expect rescue or survival will actually last longer in life-or-death situations than people who don't. I first learned about it via Jennifer Crusie blog post. (The relevant part is halfway through.) It reminds me a little bit of the old WWII training videos on how to escape a submarine that had been torpedoed. It showed a bunch of seamen being hoisted up an escape line. The (modern day) commentary was something along the lines of "This is so their mothers feel better. The escape plan as demonstrated doesn't actually work."

* One of the things I liked about the movie is that the "when in doubt, check the reference manual" was applied. Even when she couldn't read the language.

#40 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 06:16 PM:

Jacque @38

I did like the way she talked her way through getting out of the uncontrolled tumble and oriented in the right direction. It rang true for this part-time's teacher of Continuing Ed students. I wonder how accurate that scene is or is not in theory.

#41 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 07:10 PM:

If I could sum up in one sentence what I found wrong with it, it would be that all orbits are right next to each other.

#42 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 08:45 PM:

GarrettC @37:
It seemed entirely stupid for Good Astronaut Clooney to go out of his way to retrieve the body of somebody who was confirmed dead (and whose inertia would make it harder for him to steer with) while he was dragging somebody who was confirmed ALIVE as long as her 1% oxygen levels held out.

That one didn't seem all that stupid to me. At that point, no one realized just how bad the situation was; he was thinking of it as "a mission with a casualty" where problems like low oxygen and limited fuel would be solved (or at least solvable) as soon as they got back to the shuttle. Under those circumstances, "bring my buddy's body home" is something a lot of people would consider a high priority.

#43 ::: switchnode ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2013, 10:36 PM:

I saw it in IMAX 3D, in a very large group of nerds (so that if stupidity levels grew dangerously high I could engage the emergency snarky whisper vent).

Ben Goren over in the comments at Why Evolution Is True offered the following excellent summary:
"I haven’t seen the movie…but, if I understand the basic premise, it’s not unlike a couple people in a sailboat getting capsized a few hundred miles away from Guam deciding their only hope for survival is to swim to Hawaii. And they successfully proceed to do so by swimming due south."

The problem isn't just that the plot exceeds suspension of disbelief; it's that the plot exceeds suspension of disbelief in order to tell a story that is far less interesting than the one they could have had with more realism. The most suspenseful, most chilling, most terrifying thing about space is that space is big—that you're as far from the rest of humanity as it's possible to be; that a minuscule error in trajectory can lead to certain death; that Mission Control can be right there in your ear and totally helpless to save you. Gravity's space is very, very small. For all the magnificent tech, it didn't feel real.

(That, and come on—no Mission Control? Not even a voice on the radio for 80 minutes? Apollo 13 is one of my favorite movies of all time, because for once the flight controllers got to be heroes too. I guess they had to make room for the one-two cheap shot of dead kid and Hallucinoclooney, but it was a poor replacement. I'm just disappointed that the movie took such a unique setting—one of the most amazing of humanity's accomplishments, a testament to the power of cooperation and competition and ingenuity—and thought that that wasn't enough. That it had to be juiced up with a cookie-cutter Do Not Go Gentle plotline that would work about as well in literally any drama. Maybe I wouldn't be so discouraged if it hadn't looked so good.)

#44 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2013, 06:18 AM:

Meanwhile, XKCD looks at the effects of gravity on The Little Prince.

There are chaotic tidal effects on the orbits of elongated objects.

#45 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2013, 01:54 PM:

It's pretty clear from the reactions of those with a decent grasp of actual orbital mechanics and space-biz facts-of-life that the movie gets some things wrong and flat-out fudges others. On the other hand, it's an enormously impressive piece of film-making, with a lot of attention given to building an environment that (mostly, especially if you don't have detailed, nitty-gritty knowledge) is immersive and impressive and detailed. And that's one thing that movie-making is about. I remember having parallel response tracks to Alien when I first saw it (on one of the last big-big screens in Minneapolis): One belonged to the experienced-print-SF-reader, who was wondering about the economics of fully-crewed interstellar mining vessels and a biology that could generate and contain universal-solvent drool; and the other sat back and enjoyed a spooky-old-house horror movie on steroids with brilliantly inventive (if not always rationally believable) art direction and terrific pacing and cutting. I knew that it wasn't great SF, but it was great film-making.

As far as being pulled out of the movie by various errors and fudgings: Do lawyers and cops have the same bounce-off-it reaction to the (I'm told) egregious distortions of actual cop and courtroom protocols that drive cop/courtroom dramas? (Or, for that matter, the stock riding falls, stagecoach crashes and it's-just-a-flesh-wound shootout results of classic westerns.) I reserve my highest respect for narrative fiction that gets everything exactly right, but in a form that wants to deliver various kinds of excitement rather than documentary-level accuracy, I realize that fudging is part of the skill-set required to make the thrill-ride (or weep- or laff-fest) work. Then there are the elements that are required in order for there to be a story at all--palming those cards is a crucial screenwriting skill. As distinct from, say, the decision to make Bullock's character a long-grieving mother, which becomes part of the "just let go" motif that threads through the whole script and that I suspect was included to address a segment of the audience that is perceived as needing something more than life-or-death to hook them.

About the 3D: We saw it in an IMax 3D house, and while I normally avoid 3D, this worked very well for me--though I suspect that a flat IMax showing would have worked fine too, though without a few of the bells & whistles like stray objects floating out into the auditorium. (We saw the last Mission Impossible thrill-ride in the same house, flat. Some of it was spectacular. And the flat trailer for the upcoming Thor movie was very impressive when Writ Large.)

#46 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2013, 09:59 PM:

I saw the film this morning, 3D Imax. The most expensive movie ticket ever.

Jordin summed up my science objections.

Other than those, or those aside, it was very enjoyable.

#47 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2013, 10:00 PM:

The worst bit(s) for me were that EVERY time she got to somewhere she thought would be safe, the space debris hit again at just that moment. Enough already! Like switchnode@43, I was disappointed that there was hardly any Mission Control -- for one thing, that was the great Ed Fkg Harris!! Quite aside from the issue of why there's Mission C. in the first place. After the first few minutes, all of a sudden there's nobody for her to talk to except Hallucination George. Overall I thought it was OK, but ... well, I guess my problem with it was that I really prefer space opera to space reality. If only somebody would make a (good!) movie about Miles Vorkosigan I'd be in doggie heaven.

#48 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 26, 2013, 11:10 PM:

Tehanu: With Peter Dinklage, for extra ecstacy. :-)

#49 ::: GarrettC ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2013, 12:24 AM:

Chris @ 42

It's not that I don't understand the instinct to recover the body of your friend and colleague, but the film went out of its way to make the oxygen levels of his living friend and colleague absurdly low. The way the situation read to me, as I was watching it, was that she was desperately close to asphyxiation, and near asphyxiating in his ear the whole time.

If they had pulled the close-call drama back just a little, tiny bit, it wouldn't have bothered me. Just don't have her life on the razor's edge when you calmly decide to take a life-threatening detour. That's all.

#50 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2013, 07:04 PM:

Quibbles! Hah!

Last night I saw Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger!

That movie made Gravity look like a Discovery Channel Documentary with added dialog.

Escape Plan perpetrated gross stupidities on the audience. I could write an entire article on the "sextant" alone.

#51 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2013, 01:34 PM:

I saw it over the weekend in Imax 3D and was hooked from start to finish. I had noted some of the scientific objections from before. One thing that I hadn't seen mentioned was that the supposedly 20,000 mile per hour debris looked much slower than that.

But I'm not really complaining. This is a landmark movie.

#52 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2013, 11:28 AM:

I did think it was ever so pretty. But, honestly, the main character is boring. And she really shouldn't be. I mean, a doctor who develops some sensing thingy that is so interesting they want to install it in space? So, a doctor and a techie. Someone who obviously doesn't like space, but sticks it through training to be a mission specialist? This is a woman with a great deal of stubbornness, among other things. Technical chops. Vision. None of this squares with the story of someone so devastated by the loss of her daughter that she goes to work, then leaves work to just drive, listening to any damn thing on the radio, only to do this all over again. This character fundamentally makes no sense, and that's too bad. Because the person she had to be in order to make it into that particular situation had to be an interesting person, with or without a dead daughter.

#53 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2013, 07:33 PM:

Another reason I liked this movie is that my other half and I could enjoy it together—me because it's set in space and him because of Sandra Bullock.

When George Clooney's character asked, "Is there a Mr. Stone?" I leaned over and whispered, "No, Sandra Bullock doesn't play those parts."

#54 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2013, 06:44 PM:

Something that rang false: I think Dr. Stone addresses her fellow astronaut at a few points as "Lieutenant Kowalski." Did I mis-hear?

He's supposed to be an experienced old astronaut. U.S. military astronauts are considerably past the rank of lieutenant before they ever fly in space.

#55 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2013, 11:10 PM:

Oh, dear. The site named after bird noises has a user named "@HardSciFiMovies". Fortunately, it is much shorter than TV Tropes. It did not appear to have a spoiler for the physics problems in Gravity, but it did for many other movies.

#56 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2013, 08:13 PM:

For comparison. The zero-gravity segment is about 2:45 in.

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