Science and Exploration

Gravity Review: In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Dream

By Keith Cowing
October 5, 2013
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Gravity Review: In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Dream

Keith Cowing: I saw “Gravity” yesterday – in all its glory – in 3-D on a monster screen. I did so in the middle of the day so as to get the perfect seat. As it happens, any seat in the theater would have been perfect – with or without 3-D – this movie is that good.
In watching the film I immediately felt myself pulled into the world that this film created. Only two other films have ever managed to do that to me: “Avatar” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”. When I first saw “2001” during its initial run, I was lucky enough to see it in Cinerama – the IMAX of the day. I was already interested in space, but that experience left me changed forever. I can imagine how “Gravity” could have a similar effect on young people today.

Many people have compared “Gravity” and “2001” – with good reason. The sheer visual artistry of both films, seen in their own respecitve moments in time, leaves you forgetting to think how they did it. It was the perfection of the imagery in “Gravity” as well as the realistic flaws that just sucks you in. Indeed, it is so compelling that the craftsmanship put into this film served to shut off the space cadet software running in my brain – you know, the tendency to start looking for technical nits on the canvas and ignoring the entire painting. “Gravity” tells a simple, but very human story told against the backdrop of life (and death) in space.

Yes, there are some technical issues that would ordinarily undermine the story – in a lesser film. I am not going to get into them (so as to not spoil the story). The trailer that has been out for months shows lots of things being smashed to bits – including a Space Shuttle and Hubble Space Telescope. To those who would look for the flaws, lets just assume that this is an alternate future where we replaced Columbia, moved Hubble to a new orbit near ISS, and China was a little busier -sooner. Get over it. Do you folks sit through “Star Trek” looking for technical flaws? You enjoyed “Space Cowboys” too, yes?

Oh yes, poor Doug Wheelock and Scott Parazynski. They spent so much time on that risky EVA fixing one a solar array on STS-120 and yet the film smashes their delicate handiwork in seconds. Also, I think a lot of people will have a deeper understanding of what Mike Foale and Jerry Linenger went through on Mir back in the day.

Watching the film I was also reminded of “Marooned” and “Silent Running”. A little bit of “Alien” too – espeically when you take into account the mounting personal strength that Sandra Bullock put into this role. She started out a bit frazzled but she was in full Ellen Ripley mode at the end.

The film was made with no official NASA involvement. Indeed, I am told that NASA sent out feelers and was politely turned down. Other than the NASA logo and astronaut Andy Thomas’ name at the end, this film was made without overt NASA influence. As I write this, the film has made a very impressive opening day showing at the box office – rather strong for an October opening. There has been lots of glowing buzz on TV. An astronaut (Mike Massimino) got the “person of the week” award on ABC News yesterday even though he had nothing to do with the film (he did make a series of difficult Hubble EVAs though).

So, what has NASA done with this windfall of good karma and positive vibes for space exploration? Nothing. It cannot say a thing – not even tweet – because Congress has silenced the entire agency in the most crude and stupid fashion imaginable.

How ironic. At a time when NASA could really use a shot in the arm, “Gravity” is just what the PR doctor would order. Yet I think this enforced silence at NASA will not dampen the impact of “Gravity” or what NASA will be able to do with this interest in space exploration once it is given back its voice.

You see, in space, everyone can hear you dream. No one can ever stop that – not even Congress.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.