From the first trailer, I hadn't been excited about Gravity. It looked visually impressive, but I couldn't see a story there, and as much as people have raved, I really only saw it out of a sense of obligation, but hoping that I would be wrong.

It seems that my instincts about story have gotten pretty good, and I should start listening to them more often.

Honestly, I don't remember the last time I hated a movie this much. Maybe 9, which was a trainwreck with all kinds of problems. Gravity only has one big one, but it's an absolute dealbreaker: I didn't give the slightest shit whether Sandra Bullock survived.

And I say Sandra Bullock because her character Ryan Stone is a complete cipher. (Spoilers ahoy, but whatever. There's not really a story anyway.) It starts out on a space walk where George Clooney's commander is a genial chatterbox, there's a redshirt who's just thrilled to be there, and Dr. Ryan Stone is slightly ill and completely wooden, no hints of a personality at all.

Then shit goes bananas, right then and there. Everyone's instantly thrown into mortal danger, which okay, but I don't know who any of these assholes even are and thus have no vested interest in what happens to them. Yeah, people die. It happens. Oh, some people inside the shuttle died? Might have been heartbreaking if I knew they existed before that second.

Even as the movie goes on, you get absolutely no hint of who Ryan Stone is. She had a daughter who died pointlessly, and now she's left kind of hollow. Again, okay, but I don't want to spend 90 minutes with just this person. Clooney's more interesting, and maybe I would have liked the movie better if he'd been the one to go all the way through, but no, he dies really pointlessly because neither of them understands how inertia works.

As far as the story goes, it's just one dangerous setpiece after another, and even with a 90 minute runtime it's repetitive as hell. Hey, you made it to one space station! Let's destroy it like we did the other one and make you do this all again! If there hadn't been a couple of other people in the theater, at one point I really would have yelled at the screen, "The universe is actively trying to kill you! Take the fucking hint!"

Yes, in the survival movie I was actively rooting for the protagonist to eat it. That's what I call failure.

It had other problems, too. The dialogue was unbearably cornball from start to finish, and it was so horrifically overscored. I knew she was going to survive reentry just fine because the music swelled just so. There's an honest to Zod heartbeat on the soundtrack several times, like we're playing Silent Hill or some shit. Except Silent Hill starts off with the pants-crapping terror, and then steps back and lets you actually meet the fucking people.

I get that maybe it's trying to be an everyman story and explore how an average civilian would cope with that situation, but the answer is pretty plainly, "You would die, motherfucker." This is the kind of situation that called for an extraordinary person, and she's really, really, really not.

Okay, fine, it looked great. But should movies really get points for that anymore? Saying your effects look realistic is like saying the white balance looked good. It's 2013. That's a base expectation now. I'm sure the behind the scenes stuff with how they made it all work is fascinating, but that's not a replacement for an actual story.

I've always held that you learn more from bad movies than you do from good ones, and for me this is a lesson in 100-foot high neon letters that three-act structure exists for a reason. You absolutely cannot open with the inciting incident. You have to establish a baseline before you show the change. Here's how I would have done it: regular spacewalk with a fakeout tense moment, back in the shuttle to get to know the characters, then destroy everything. They make it to one space station, spend more time actually interacting with the characters, Clooney dies in a way that actually means something and doesn't reek of not wanting to deal with a second character anymore, and then she gets back to Earth from there. You'd still have terrible dialogue and an obnoxious score, but it would have held together much better.

Alfonso Cuarón is credited as the writer, director, producer, and editor, and ye gods does it show. Perhaps had someone else stepped in and said, "No really, this isn't a story, it's just stuff that happens to the unluckiest bastard in history," there might have been something workable here. As it is, I get the feeling that all of the people raving about it got a scene at the beginning that didn't make it onto our print that gave them a reason to care.
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