Sci-Fi Gets Some Oscar Love

GRAVITY

This time the sci-fi genre had significant bones thrown at it last night by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. While Gravity, arguably the best picture released in 2013 didn’t win the coveted Best Picture Oscar, the same film did nab the Best Director prize for Alfonso Cuarón. Additionally, director Spike Jonez won the Best Original Screenplay for his sci-fi romance Her.

her

What was interesting about this Oscar awards ceremony was that Gravity was a serious contender for the Best Picture award. That is something that I never saw with these Oscars. I remember how openly derisive critics (and even some sci-fi fans) were to Avatar back in 2010 when it was up for Best Picture. Usually the Academy is very snobbish when it comes to recognizing the creative achievements of genre films, especially sci-fi stuff. There are many important and impactful sci-fi films that are never even nominated for Best Picture. Even Alfonso Cuarón’s last film, Children Of Men, probably the best sci-fi film of the last decade, didn’t get nominated for Best Picture.

Still, anyone who is disappointed should realize that there isn’t any way that Gravity would persevere against more “lofty” and “high-brow” productions like 12 Years A Slave. Not to take anything away from that film, but it’s clear to many genre fans the bias the Academy has against genre films, especially sci-fi movies. If 12 Years A Slave wasn’t nominated the Oscar might’ve gone to American Hustle or some other film that will be found in the $5 DVD bin at Walmart. That’s just the reality of the situation.

oscar winIt’s great that Gravity won the most Oscars, even though most of them were for the usual technical categories. It deserved each award because it was genuinely groundbreaking. Furthermore, the stature and clout of Alfonso Cuarón has risen (as has that of Spike Jonez) and he must be placed in the same caliber of genre directors like Steven Spielberg and James Cameron.

The other positive aspect from the 86th Academy Awards is that the sci-fi genre is undeniably getting closer to getting the creative recognition it deserves. So perhaps one day a sci-fi film will win the Best Picture Oscar.

Lewis T. Grove

Gravity Won’t Let You Go

gpWhat Alfonso Cuarón, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney pull off with the film Gravity is nearly miraculous. It’s astonishingly accurate in its depiction of being in outer space, as we experience its dangerous but beautiful aspects.

Director Alfonso Cuarón triumphantly filmed this unforgettable movie experience starting with the very first shot. It’s one of his signature minutes-long takes that begins with the majestic vista of the Earth seen from orbit as a space shuttle slowly appears, seemingly out of nowhere. The spacecraft gradually fills the screen as we are introduced to Gravity’s main characters. Darting around the shuttle are Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a rookie astronaut, who is repairing the Hubble telescope that is docked to the shuttle’s main bay. Darting around her and the ship, almost playfully, is retiring veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who still can’t get enough of the space experience. Stone, on the other hand, seems unimpressed with the magnitude of where she is and is somewhat withdrawn. Later in the film, we learn why.

GRAVITY

Before Gravity can turn into another one of those pleasantly relaxing IMAX films about space travel, the astronauts are abruptly warned about an approaching debris field from a destroyed satellite. Then the chilling terror begins as metal debris showers the shuttle. The astronauts are thrown about like rag dolls and the shuttle is damaged beyond use. These pulse-pounding scenes create a sense of terror since we see early on how fragile our heroes are and realize the enormity of their life-and-death situation. Despite the turmoil, Kowalski stays cool and collected, while Stone, like most of us, is in panic mode and for good reason. Somehow, she has to fight her terror and find a way to safely return to Earth.

Bullock gives one of her very best performances in this film. Through minimal dialogue and tension-filled sequences we feel an empathy for her. Stone is a rather nuanced person; GRAVITYwhen we first meet her she is passive and gives in to her feelings of helplessness. She almost seems innocent, and the moments when she is floating in a space station curled up like an infant drive this point home. But by the end of the film, she undergoes a rebirth of sorts as an intense, spiritual metamorphosis takes place. Stone develops an inner, steely resolve. She becomes a fighter, not in the screaming warrior sense, but as someone who can think clearly during a crisis, while displaying a indomitable fighting spirit.

The director uses a minimalist approach to express these themes. There aren’t any great mysteries or philosophical questions to ponder. It’s a movie about survival and finding that inner strength that most of us have to fight against the odds. In this case, Stone has to find a way to return to Earth despite overwhelming odds and her tenuous circumstances. That’s what is so inspiring about Gravity.

GRAVITYAlfonso Cuarón demonstrates why he is a filmmaker to be revered. His work drew me into the film and made me feel like I was there. There are so many little touches that sell the impression that the characters are in space. Things like the lack of sound, except what is heard inside the spacesuits, and the cramped interiors of the I.S.S. with all the floating objects. It’s so realistically rendered that a part of me wondered at times how he filmed all those scenes of weightlessness. It seems like Cuarón took a camera up to the I.S.S. and filmed segments in zero gravity. It’s needless to say that the special effects and cinematography are beyond flawless.

Are there flaws with Gravity? Of course, there are. But so does Star Wars, Avatar, 2001: A Space Odyssey and other groundbreaking movies. Without going into details, let’s just say that a careful observer can spot when dramatic licenses were taken during pivotal moments. But that’s just nitpicking, and such instances don’t approach the level of inaccuracies and plot flaws seen in other recent blockbuster films. Without sounding too hyperbolic, Gravity is a game changer. We see the majestic wonder of observing the Earth from above, but are made too aware of how precarious life is outside of the world’s protective influence. However, its core message was about the resiliency of the human spirit and the fragile but beauteous nature of life. That along with breathtaking visuals, auteur direction and bravura performances, is why Gravity won’t let you go long after seeing it.

José Soto