Tag Archives: elysium

Review – Gravity 3D (15) [2013]

Gravity - title banner2

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alfonso Cuarón – Love In The Time of Hysteria, Harry Potter III, Children of Men

Cast:

  • Sandra Bullock – Crash, Premonition, The Blind Side, Minions
  • George Clooney – Syriana, The American, The Ides of March, The Monuments Men
  • Ed Harris – A Beautiful Mind, The Way Back, Man On A Ledge, Frontera

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – Attack The Block, The World’s EndFury

Movies that have delved into the realms of outer space have usually fallen somewhere in the triangle of the sublime, the ridiculous and the farcical. Avatar, Star Wars I-VI, and Lost In Space give credence to this (erratic) trinity in varying ways. Among the spaceships, the ray-gun shoot-outs, and the convergence with antenna-eyed or raptor-style aliens, there has been little room (ironically) for realism in a film set in space. Until now. It may have none of the above, but Gravity gives us a true and uncomfortable feel for what it is like to be outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making some repairs to the shuttle in view of Earth.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) making some repairs to the shuttle in view of Earth.

Gravity centres round Dr. Ryan Stone (Sadra Bullock), a Mission Specialist. She is on her first expedition into space, led by Matt (George Clooney), a veteran on his last voyage into space. Dr. Stone is making repairs to the shuttle that she and Matt are flying with, when debris from an explosion on a Russian satellite smashes into their shuttle. With the shuttle damaged irreparably, Dr. Stone must find another shuttle if she wishes to return to Earth.

That is essentially the storyline for Gravity. One problem with the plot is that the film uses up its central premise within 30 of its 91 minute running time. This means that for the last hour, the movie recycles itself instead of flesh-eating alien invasions or putting inter-galactic arsenals to the test.

But for those who would rather see another Star Wars, Prometheus or Elysium, do not lose faith. Gravity is very engaging. It has moments of knuckle-whitening tension, amplified by the fast beat, gradual crescendo and sudden silence of the music; all whilst our main character tries to reach another space vessel before her oxygen runs out. In respect of tension, the movie is similar to Sanctum; only in Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s directing style increases one’s ability to empathise with the protagonists’ predicament.

Predominantly, the film is seen through Dr. Stone’s eyes (or rather her space-helmet), as she swims around in the boundless, atmosphere-less blackness. Without a centre of gravity, the movie enables viewers to appreciate what it’s like to be in space, rotating endlessly unless one can find something to hold onto. And unlike (the lamentable) Lost In Space, Gravity gives audiences a genuine taste for how scary it would be to get lost in space and to lose contact with the only people who might be able to find you.

Matt (George Clooney), from behind his space helmet, gazing and admiring Earth, amidst the peace of outer space.

Matt (George Clooney), from behind his space helmet, gazing and admiring Earth, amidst the peace of outer space.

In part, one feels the depth of this horror because of Sandra Bullock’s energetic performance. Her character is almost always in panic (as any human being would be in her situation) and this exacerbates Dr. Stone’s (somewhat) complex personality. Due to an unhappy episode in her past, we see her mindset switch from despair to a willingness to live on (and vice-versa) repeatedly. This is something which viewers can relate to on a human level, and it was very important that Bullock achieved this feat. For much of Gravity, she is alone on screen, and if she had failed to show Dr. Stone’s personality to the full, audiences would likely have stopped caring about her.

The only other significant character in the film is Matt, played by George Clooney. And Clooney (surprise surprise) plays himself again as the smooth-talking, handsome wise-head, who goes and comes back (for plot convenience) to give sage advice. That is not to say that Clooney performs his role badly. It is just that we have seen this too many times already.

Bullock and Clooney aside, Gravity is remarkably consistent with its depiction of reality in space. Too often in (bad) films, one sees/hears characters breathing and talking in space. Here, however, there is none of that nonsense! The only time one hears sounds is through the space suit’s microphone, which is so refreshing (and illustrates that not all filmmakers have the paucity of knowledge of physics as Sidney Furie, the director of the rightly-maligned Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.)

Dr. Stone trying to grip a bar on the shuttle, or else she could be find herself adrift in the endless, empty abyss of space surrounding her.

Dr. Stone trying to grip a bar on the shuttle, or else she could be find herself adrift in the endless, empty abyss of space surrounding her.

Moreover, audiences are treated to stunning visual effects. The emptiness that is outer space, in all its wonder, is shown to be disconcertingly large. What’s more, the 3D (for once) enhances the visual experience, even more so than it did in Avatar and Star Trek II: Into Darkness. In Gravity, when debris flies at Dr. Stone, one jerks one’s head out of the way, believing he/she will otherwise be hit! Considering how often the 3D does little more than darken the film and add a couple more quid to the cinema ticket, one must applaud Cuarón for augmenting the experience in a positive and noteworthy way.

Over-all, Gravity is a great demonstration of what being in outer space feels like. That the film has no alien encounters or futuristic ray-gun fights gives the film an ironically grounded dimension that has been sorely lacking in so many other movies that have ventured into space. Due to Sandra Bullock’s great acting, the extraordinary level of consistency regarding the physics of space, the amazing special effects and the 3D, Cuarón has treated us to outer space’s awe-inspiring massiveness, as well as how frightening space can be when out there, lost.

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Review – Elysium (15) [2013]

Elysium - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Neil Blomkamp – District 9, Chappie

Cast:

  • Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, ContagionInterstellar
  • Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs, Flightplan, Carnage
  • Alice Braga – I Am Legend, The Rite, Kill Me Three Times
  • Diego Luna – The Terminal, Criminal, Milk
  • William Fichtner – Crash, The Dark Knight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Sharlto Copley – District 9, The A-Team, Chappie
  • Emma Tremblay – The Judge

Music Composer:

  • Ryan Aman

Science fiction films set in the future have a knack for painting a bleak picture for humanity. That is, until an American hero decides that he’s had enough and rips up the regime as he knows it. In I Am Legend, a cure for cancer led to a mutation that practically wiped out humanity, bar Will Smith who tried to save mankind; in In Time, the poor scrounged in squalor in confined areas until their short-lived clocks ran out, while the rich lived forever in their luxurious areas, until Justin Timberlake broke the system; and in Oblivion, a victorious war against aliens led to the Earth being uninhabitable, until Tom Cruise saved it. Elysium also portrays a depressing picture for mankind, only this time it’s Matt Damon playing the predictable protagonist.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Elysium is based in the year 2154 and centres round Max (Matt Damon). Max lives on the overcrowded Earth, along with all the poor people, while the rich live on a luxurious space station called Elysium. Working in a factory, Max sustains an (avoidable) injury at work. He is told he has only five days to live.

But there is an alternative. Max must go to Elysium, where his ailments can be cured because the rich on Elysium are so far advanced that they have found cures for all health problems. The difficulty for Max is getting to Elysium as he can only travel there illegally. But to do so, he has to get past the aggressive androids that control Earth, as well as Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), the Secretary of Defence for Elysium, who kills anyone attempting to illegally reach Elysium by using her mercenaries on Earth, such as Kruger (Sharlto Copley), to do her dirty work.

The premise for Elysium is good. Issues like why Elysium was built; how people came to be on Elysium; as well as class divisions and the practicalities of class mobility are fantastic starting points to engage audiences. Moreover, the special effects are brilliant. They look natural and give one a true feel for the world that director Neil Blomkamp has created.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

But, oddly, Elysium fails to engross its viewers. The dialogue is cliché-ridden from three minutes in to the final scene, none of the above-mentioned matters are dealt with properly (if at all), and much of the plot is unoriginal and has been seen before; for example, emotionless (anal) robots controlling whole populations. This was handled in i,Robot (and Will Smith sorted out the problem back in 2004).

Apart from being derivative of other movies, Elysium’s plot rapidly descends into farce before the predictable futuristic ray-gun fight between the hero and the villain, and all the antagonists (all white as it happens) are unimaginative, one-dimensional swines.

The fact that all the villains in Elysium are white raises another problem with the film: its shamefully contrite thinly-veiled racist elements. All the poor, the ill-educated, and the criminals are either Mexican or black (bar Matt Damon), while the elites on Elysium are white with either English, French or white South African accents. Haven’t we moved on since the 19th-century? (Colonialism has ended after-all.)

Matters of racism aside, the acting is mixed by the cast. For the protagonists: Matt Damon does a decent job as the central protagonist without being noteworthy; Alice Braga plays okay as Max’s love interest/damsel-in-distress/the caring mother of Matilda (Emma Tremblay); and Diego Luna is fine as the leading gangster of the illegal (Mexican) underworld.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

For the antagonists: Jodie Foster gives an unusually wooden performance, adopting an unnecessary English accent that looks like it has been bizarrely dubbed post-production (evidently her lines were not contrived enough first time round); William Fichtner is awful as… (I’m not really sure what his role was meant to be); yet, Sharlto Copley is absolutely brilliant as the psychopathic henchman. Granted, his role is that of a sadistic villain that one has generally seen before, but Copley plays it frighteningly well and makes his audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s on the screen, which is an achievement. Unsurprisingly, Copley is the star of this average movie.

Over-all, Elysium is alright. The film has superb special effects and a solid basis with which to make a genuinely interesting movie, even if it is a miserable portrait of a future for mankind. However, Elysium fails to build on its strong foundations and, instead, is stuffed with clichés, subtle racism, standard storyline developments and stereotypical characters for the genre. And to top it up, Elysium has Matt Damon playing the role that Will Smith and Tom Cruise have made their own: the all American hero.

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