Space Shuttle

Show, don’t tell, “Gravity”!

Last weekend I finally saw Gravity: a wacky romantic comedy set in space. Minus the “wacky,” “romantic,” and “comedy” bits. The movie is set in space, though.

First, let’s get this out of the way—I really liked Gravity. It was visually breathtaking, excellently acted, accompanied by a fantastic musical score, and very well paced. Does it live up to the insane hype? Probably not, but it comes really close.

But I’m not here to review Gravity. That would call for an objective, thorough, and well-thought-out post. I can’t deliver on any of those descriptors. I have the patience of a person who is something something analogy whatever, let’s get on with this already.

What I found most jarring about the movie is the transparent and heavy-handed attempt at giving characters extra dimensions.

Green Man Wearing 3D Glasses

3D glasses don’t create 3D characters, you see.

*Minor spoiler* A few minutes into the movie we’re shown a recently deceased side-character. His helmet is smashed and half of his face is missing. So, yeah, definitely dead. Then, floating next to him, we see a laminated photo of him and his family back on Earth. The camera lingers on their smiling faces, while we let out a collective “What? People in space have families back home? They are just like us!”

Note: up until that point the character’s main contribution to the movie consisted mostly of a silly space dance and riveting monologue of the “Woo-hoooo!” variety.

My first thought upon seeing his lifeless body was “So sad. Poor bastard.”

Immediately after the laminated picture floated into my vision, I updated that to “So sad. Poor bastard. What the hell is a laminated picture of his family doing outside his space suit? Isn’t that a safety risk?!”

Look, I get it—he’s a real person with a real life. I can deduce that on my own, because he looks decidedly human. I am also automatically wired to care about the plight of my fellow humans. I don’t need a condescending visual telling me to care. Well, at least we avoided a slow-motion, black-and-white flashback of the guy playing catch with his son.

Silhouettes Playing Catch People

“Look out, son! That giant ball is about to crush your skull!”

At a later stage, the following dialogue takes place between George Clooney’s and Sandra Bullock’s characters:

GEORGE:  Tell me more about yourself. Are you a likeable human being that we can relate to?

SANDRA: Yes, I am indeed a human being with a complex backstory. You should care deeply about my feelings and my traumatic past.

GEORGE: Thank you for confirming your “human” status. I now care more about you and your emotions. I think our viewers should, too. *breaks the fourth wall and gives the audience a conspirational wink*

No, that’s not the actual dialogue. You get the point, though.

I have two issues with this.

One, it’s unnecessary. This ham-fisted character backstory has no place in what is otherwise a well-made, edge-of-your-seat thriller. I don’t need extra prodding to care about the fate of Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock’s character). All of us can relate to the terror and claustrophobia of being trapped in space. The movie does a great job of giving us the feeling of “being there.” It’s mostly irrelevant what Dr. Stone’s life is like back on Earth. I don’t care if she likes wearing hats made of teddy bears and participates in darkly disturbing drama performances. I am living in her “now”—and one hell of a stressful “now” at that.

Two, if you insist on adding this human dimension, do it right. Don’t patronize me into caring by telling me “Here, this is why this character is more than just a number.” If you want me to care, get me invested in the character’s fate. Make me witness them overcoming challenges and growing as people. Let me experience their pain at the time it happens. But don’t plop a 10-page “personal history” report into my hands and leave it at that. Otherwise, you end up with an obviously out-of-place, almost pointless verbal exposition.

Big Green Book

A helpful reference to the “Dead Zombie Number 143” character

Worst of all, every one of these attempts at creating emotional connections stuck out like a sore thumb. And you know what they say about sore thumbs in space…something, I’m sure. These moments dragged me out of the immersion. That’s not something you want in a movie that’s literally filmed using the “point-of-view” technique at some points.

Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe I am forever cursed to pick on minor flaws and blow them out of proportion. Maybe that’s all because of that one time when I was five years old and that bad man stole my ice-cream and my mother told me that the world isn’t perfect and there will always be people out there who want to hurt you, no matter how good you are. My mother had dark brown hair and spoke in a soft, soothing voice. She still does. I have fond memories of my childhood. I, too, am three-dimensional.

To conclude: Gravity is a great movie. Go watch it!

Newton’s Apple

Short sketch written for a “Creative Writing” class. The exercise was to describe in detail a historical person doing something mundane.

One summer day Sir Isaac Newton was enjoying the sun in his garden. He sat by his favourite apple tree, savouring the warm breeze upon his face. Suddenly, he heard a thump nearby and saw a round object rolling slowly toward him. Upon taking a closer look Sir Newton realised that he was looking at an apple that just fell from the apple tree above. “My oh my”, he thought, “that could have hit me on my head, it could!”

It was positively the largest apple Isaac had ever seen. One thing he loved was apples. He loved that each sort of apple would surprise him with a new sensation of taste. Isaac knew that this one would not disappoint him. He stretched his hand to reach the apple, but realised he could not do so without moving his whole body. Lazily, without getting up, he pushed himself forward until his hand could grab the fruit.

He brought the apple close to his face, and examined it meticulously. He rotated the apple very deliberately, appreciating its smooth texture pressing against his skin, and squinting to see the minute details of its surface. “It is a beauty!”, Isaac concluded. He had always been fascinated by nature and its creations. For a few short seconds Isaac contemplated not eating the apple after all, so amazed he was.

Finally, with one decisive motion Isaac brought the apple up to his mouth and let his teeth sink into it. He took a large bite out of the apple and began to chew unhurriedly. He tasted the delicious fresh pulp and let the taste linger before taking another bite. With the next bite, Sir Newton closed his eyes and his mouth shaped into a smile. He leaned back against the apple tree and proceeded to take more bites out of the juicy fruit. As the apple slowly diminished in size, Isaac’s smile grew wider. He stretched out his legs and was by now lying down, with his head firmly propped up against the tree.

Once Isaac was finished with the apple, he carefully placed what was left of the fruit by his side. He rolled his tongue inside his mouth to collect the remaining bits of his tasty treat. He let out a loud smacking sound to show his appreciation, and then slowly rose up. His legs have been failing him of late, so this action came with much effort. Pondering upon the gravity of his physical condition, Sir Isaac Newton went on about his day.