Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gravity is a harsh mistress

I watched the movie Gravity this week.  It definitely had great production values, and despite rampant criticism towards the acting, I actually really liked the job that Sandra Bullock and George Clooney did.  I mean, Clooney was just playing that guy he plays, but he does do that guy really well!  I shouldn't be too critical of a guy just doing that one job that everyone knows he is good at.

Unfortunately for the movie there was one particularly unforgivable crime against physics that made me really grumpy and tarnished one of the pivotal scenes in the movie.  The scene in question is where the two astronauts are tumbling past the space station, trying desperately to grab on, while the cord tethering them together gets caught on various things.  They fail to get a hold and are almost past the station when Bullock's foot gets caught in ropes.  So far, so good.  Her foot is entangled, the pair of them are stopped, and Clooney is still attached to Bullock so neither of them is going anywhere.  Clooney then gives a long speech about how he has to let the tether go to save her, and Bullock predictably objects.  They sit there, immobile, having this long chat... then Clooney untethers and rapidly zooms off into space.


They were stopped.  The slightest tug on the tether would pull Clooney back in, and both of them would be fine.  There was no force acting on Clooney to pull him away!  It was noted by all the people who critiqued the science of the film as a major hole, and it totally broke the scene for me.  The worst part is that most of the zero G movement in the film is done well.  They have people tumbling and hovering and moving pretty much just right.  However, somebody wrote this damn scene and had to have it just this way so they slapped science silly and made a hack job of it.

Now I don't mind science being sacrificed for plot.  If your plot needs faster than light travel, then add it in.  Don't belabour the point with stupid pseudo science, just say "FTL works, moving on".  But this was totally unnecessary.  If instead the two of them had *just* missed stopping on the station they could have drifted away with agonizing slowness, and then Clooney could have shoved Bullock back toward the station, saving her and causing him to drift off into space.  Bam!  Same scene, same emotional impact, no physics violation.  That took me 30 seconds to think up.

I don't mind breaking physics when there isn't another way.  But when you can fix the holes with a trivial solution that maintains all of the emotional impact there is no excuse.

There were other issues in the movie with science, but honestly they were far more minor and didn't break me in the same way.  In particular the debris coming in towards the characters at 50,000 km/h shouldn't have been visible - random holes and explosions should just have happened without warning or visual cues!  That might even have been cooler, honestly.  Still, it didn't trigger my sense of scientific horror in the same way.

So yeah, break science if you have to.  Just don't do it when you don't need to, that's all!

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