In Space No Can Hear You - No Wait the Radio Still Works: Gravity Trailer
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In Space No Can Hear You - No Wait the Radio Still Works: Gravity Trailer

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Trailers | July 24, 2013 | Comments ()


A nice trailer/clip has just been released for Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, showing the climactic set up for the film. Let’s jump right to it:

Sigh. This clip is being gobbled up all over the place, and so much sunshine blasted up its ass that it looks like the birth of a new sun. Taking a Michael Bay scene and slapping Cuaron’s name on it does not make it magically delicious.

Look, it’s space, things work slightly differently there, and all of the physical action in this clip seems subtly off. It moves too quickly, too smoothly. It moves with all the assumptions of being down on the Earth’s surface. If this was Michael Bay, I wouldn’t notice. Hell, space is allowed to be whatever you want if you’re just making Boom in Space 3: The Boomening. But when you’ve got a slow burn hard science fiction story entitled Gravity, I tend to get a little cagey when you don’t seem to know how like gravity works.

Take for instance the shuttle that the astronauts are standing on. It gets hit by debris and then falls away into the distance. Yeah, no. See, the shuttle might have the basic shape, but it doesn’t work like an airplane. It stays up there because it’s going 17,000 miles per hour. And it’s doing that with no engines running, because in a vacuum, air resistance doesn’t slow you down. Will the moon fall out of the sky once you put holes in its wings? Then neither would a space shuttle.

Here’s the obligatory plot summary:

GRAVITY, directed by Oscar® nominee Alfonso Cuaron, stars Oscar® winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone—tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.

This trailer is just mystifying in its insistence on sixty seconds of action for a film that is described as being anything but.

But there’s also a sort of sadness in this exercise. They’re flying in the space shuttle. But that doesn’t exist anymore. If you follow space technology, you know that it wasn’t mourned in and of itself by many in the space industry. It’s a chunk of seventies technology built by committee instead of engineers. But the sad thing is that we didn’t replace it, we just let space travel taper off into nothing, with a few bones tossed to keep up the PR appearances. So we have science fiction that must be set in the past, because neither the present nor future seems to hold it anymore. And that’s more tragic than any amount of misunderstood movie physics.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • annie

    Party pooper.

  • Alice Enland

    The sight of Sandra Bullock disappearing into black space never to be heard from again is indeed pretty.

  • van1968

    Also, Man of Steel portrays people flying when people can't fly. And people can't easily be knocked unconscious from a single punch (or from being hit on the head with a liquor bottle -- which, incidentally, would not shatter like they so often do on screen). And most movie characters living in Manhattan could never afford the apartments in which they supposedly live.

    I may have missed the part where Cuaron or anyone else was touting fidelity with accepted scientific principles as the key to this film's success. If flawed astrophysics wind up being the worst thing about Gravity, that would be OK with me.

  • thegardenhead

    Also, even if the physics were slightly off (which I don't think they are), it still wouldn't negate that this looks fantastic, and it's roughly thirty seconds out of a 120 minute movie. If I could believe that people in 1996 could clone dinosaurs from amber-encased mosquitoes using the Windows 95 operating system, I think I can believe that meteors could destroy a space shuttle and ruin Sandra Bullock's day.

  • crafty

    what if the shuttle isn't falling away but the canada arm with the astronaut attached is being whip-cracked away from the shuttle up into a higher orbit and the camera is just following that action rather than the shuttle?

    that would explain the appearance of the satellite parts appearing the "fall" past the astronaut spinning on the arm.

  • thegardenhead

    This. Exactly this. I don't see anything in the trailer to indicate that the shuttle is falling to Earth. Instead, it looks to me like the shuttle is hit by debris, sending it into a spin, and putting tremendous centripetal force on the arm of the shuttle. The arm then shears off from the shuttle and goes hurtling away from the earth, while the shuttle stays in roughly the same position relative to the earth. It is because the camera is following Bullock and the arm out into space that the shuttle gets smaller, not because the shuttle is falling toward the earth.

  • Loanhighknight

    I just rewatched the trailer; I don't think the shuttle is falling back towards Earth. In fact, the physics are right on.

    You have three bodies in this scenario: Sandra Bullock, the shuttle, and the Earth (which provides your "objective" positional perspective). And it's Sandra Bullock who is flying away from the shuttle, not the shuttle that's moving back toward Earth, away from Bullock. It's a thing about your brain: if you see an object moving away from you, and your biological accelerometer does not feel any change in your motion (since you're sitting in a chair watching a video), you assume it's the other object that's moving. That assumption works great on Earth--but in space, it doesn't work at all.

    The whole shuttle, polearm and all, started spinning and rolling when it was hit from the side (as things do when they're hit from the side), then the polearm itself was hit while it was on an outbound swing and Sandra Bullock was sort of catapulted away from the shuttle (which makes sense -- if you spin a rope with a weight on the end of it around in a circle above your head and suddenly cut the rope, the weight will fly off in its momentary trajectory the instant it separated from the rope; Sandra Bullock is that weight, and she's flying away from both the shuttle and the Earth).

    So because the camera is tracking with Bullock, it makes it appear that the shuttle is moving away from Bullock--but it's just your brain assuming that the plane is falling towards the Earth. It could just as easily be that Bullock is moving really really fast away (like the weight would as it is detached from the rope) from both the Earth and the shuttle.

    Watch it again, and this time, tell yourself that it's Sandra Bullock that's moving away from the Earth, and the shuttle's altitude is unchanged.

  • thegardenhead

    Yeah, this was my take on it (see below) as well.

  • I'm willing to give this the benefit of the doubt, given what video we have at hand. The impression I had was that these events were being seen from the perspective of Clooney: the arm goes spinning up, Bullock goes flying off, and the shuttle falls down. The latter one is the problematic one, but if it's from a different perspective that shifts of course as you note.

  • Loanhighknight

    It would actually be *way* worse than all that if the whole thing were from the perspective of Clooney. Bullock's polearm is indeed hit during an outbound swing (which I saw during what was probably my fifth time watching that stupid trailer now), so if she stayed in place and the shuttle started falling, then the bigger problem (beyond the "shuttles don't just fall out of the sky when the engine is broken" thing) is that she somehow magically negated Newton's law of inertia.

    I'm 99% positive that it *has* to be the way I described--which, incidentally, makes the movie much more terrifying. Because Bullock is not in a geosynchronous orbit around the Earth, helpless but at least still tethered to Earth's gravity; she's lost and flying AWAY from the only source of rescue.

    dun dun DUNNN

  • crafty

    this is what i was getting at as well.

  • John G.

    Hear, Hear Steven. When we lost our space program, I think we lost an essential part of the American soul.

    But cheer up, perhaps the rich will bring it back just so they can go establish Elysium and escape the poors. So, there's hope.

  • TCH

    Actually they are working on a new vehicle. One which may be able to be used for longer duration voyages. If you want a real space tragedy google Project Orion.

  • DeaconG

    Nope, I spend enough time on NASA Watch seeing posts on that oncoming postpartum abortion of a program.

  • DeaconG

    Hear, hear. SpaceX is trying.

    Said as someone who was involved in the space program and is still paying the price for the shuttle cancellation (I did satellite tracking and shuttle mission support at KSC, our station was shut down after 46 years of yeoman support and we were never ever the cause of a shuttle launch hold-ever). A lot of good people are still trying to pick up the pieces.

  • Helo

    Wholly unjustified comparison to anything related to Bay. For starters, Bay would have made the booms and bangs AUDIBLE in the vacuum of space (see: Armageddon), the fact Cuarón kept those silent adds to the creepiness. Whatever lack of intelligibility in the spatial awareness of the scene is purely from the chaos of the depicted moment and choice in direction of the extended take, not spastic cutting as if the editor's goal in life was to induce epilepsy.

    I'm no physicist, but the spaceship falling after the debris strikes is consistent with Newton's Laws - a body at rest remains at rest until acted upon by an external force. With no air resistance to to brake the impact, how would the struck craft NOT keep going?

  • It wouldn't go down unless it was struck from above by something with a high enough combination of mass and velocity to shift the direction. The damage in the clip is clearly coming from debris whizzing in laterally, not vertically.

  • tjedison

    It's hard to say the vector of the piece that hits the shuttle. It might have struck something and tumbled vertically and struck it.

    Also, I would assume you wouldn't make a movie like this without some technical advisors.

  • Helo

    Maybe NASA could've turned a quick buck with advisory services here? More space flicks = more funding for actual space travel?

  • It's a natural fit. I imagine that years of talking to Congressmen have well prepared NASA engineers for the futility of trying to explain to directors that they've got the science wrong.

  • Helo

    Congress: "that's all well and good, but there's no oil in space, so........."

    Studios: "that's all well and good, but focus groups show that people respond really well to flamethrowers in space."

  • Helo

    Upon rewatch, judges say: fair point.

    Also? Maybe my 8 straight report cards featuring a D in physics probably renders any potential rebuttal of mine more invalid than Larry Flynt.

  • BWeaves

    Actually, the space shuttle stays up because of gravity. It is flying slightly up, and gravity is pulling it down by the same amount. That is how orbiting works. You are not weightless because there is no gravity. You are weightless because the shuttle is constantly falling back to earth. This is per my husband who has a Ph.D in Astronomy.

    So eventually, the broken shuttle would fall towards earth. Anyone remember SkyLab? I remember betting pools on when and where it would crash.

    But I agree, things happen way too fast in that clip. Everything would happen slower. Also, why are they flying at a level where there is debris? They track that stuff. Every glove and loose spanner is tracked. They should be doing their space walk at a level higher than loose debris. Also, the debris is slowly falling towards Earth. It'll just get burnt up before it hits the ground.

  • tjedison

    I am assuming that the debris (which Houston says is from a satellite) is "fresh", perhaps from a very recent satellite launch gone awry or aborted in flight. This was used in another movie to provide debris for drama. Also a satellite could've been hit by a meteor and turned into debris.

    As for the speed, I'd think if something (let's say a meteor) traveling several hundred MPH whacked a satellite, said satellite's pieces would travel pretty fast.

    As for the shuttle, it doesn't fall because of a hole in its "wing" but it was struck by something with enough mass to knock it out of orbit.

    Things happen as fast in a vacuum as on earth, faster actually without air resistance.

  • BWeaves

    Assuming the satellite is "fresh" garbage:

    a: If the problem was from a launch gone wrong, the satellite wouldn't be up that high. It would have already fallen back to Earth.

    b: Assuming it's an existing satellite that got hit by a meteor, again, the shuttle would have been flying higher than the satellite's orbit and the satellite would have been vaporized or fallen back to Earth. To me, it's the odds of this happening the way they are showing is too rare.

  • tjedison

    Good points. Probably a good thing, otherwise every shuttle mission would be in this kind of grave danger. I assume they will invent a one-in-a-million situation specifically so the movie can exist.

  • BWeaves

    Especially, as pointed out in the review, we don't even fly shuttles anymore.

  • The thing I didn't talk about is that the real fear of collision never was "oh noes a satellite is coming right for us!" It was always with the tiny stuff. Quarter inch long flecks of paint at six miles per second hit like shotgun pellets. In a movie like this, the slow burn tension, I thought that would be a natural fit. Everything's fine, and then boom, there's a micro hole through the ship. Then another. And then they hit the cloud of dust and are annihilated. A lot more realistic and yet a lot more interesting and terrifying.

  • BWeaves


    I'm still wondering how the debris hit everything BUT Clooney and Bullock.

  • E Robb

    It looks like it hits the other astronaut. And Bullock is sent hurtling into space. It's not as though everyone is unharmed.

  • BWeaves

    I thought Clooney was the other astronaut and he was still talking to Bullock. I guess we really won't know unless we watch the movie, and I just can't watch this one.

  • E Robb

    I'm talking about the guy in the background tethered to the ship. He gets hit by something and goes limp.

  • tjedison

    True. Except moviegoers are stupid and would never understand that. So huge pieces it is.

    My guess it that they wanted a "Stranded in space" story, and that they would come up with the fastest way to get there. Let us not forget shite such as or

  • Yeah, I wasn't even going to try to go into explaining the notion that things in orbit are forever falling and never hitting the ground. I just wanted to strip it down to: dude it's not an airplane, it doesn't drop in a straight line towards the ground when you unplug the engines.

  • E Robb

    That's also not what's happening in this trailer.

  • koko temur

    well. you (and your husband) just blew my mind.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    I agree with your assertions. However, if a trailer like this gets assess into seats so we get more quality science fiction, I'm all for it. Moon was an absolutely fabulous film that almost nobody saw in theater much to their detriment.

  • zeke_the_pig

    I saw that masterpiece twice in the cinema. In fact, in lieu of paying attention to this, I think I'll just go watch it again.

  • NateMan

    I care less about the flaws in the trailer than the sheer terror the idea itself instills in me. I won't be able to watch this movie, any more than I could watch Open Water. I trust Clooney enough to think it's going to be good - Bullock seems like an odd choice, though - but I won't be able to sit through it without my heart going bang-bang-bang.

  • dizzylucy

    Me too - every time I see any movie set in space, I feel freaked out and cringe at the thought of
    something appearing and attacking the astronauts, even if nothing like that is happening in that film.

    But I think just recently figured out why - General Zod & Co. from Superman II.
    I recently rewatched Superman I, and then remembered what went down in II, and realized that I saw that when I was a little kid and that's where it all comes from. Silly, yet I still can't shake it 30 years later.

  • John G.

    I don't share the same fear as seemingly everyone on Earth. Drifting in space just sounds really peaceful and quiet to me. It's nothing like the idea of being hunted by a giant shark.

  • space, the only asshole to bother you. Yeah, I could be totally down with that. Up until the running out of oxygen thing, of course.

  • Wigamer

    Those are both my greatest fears. Now they have melded into one--a shark hunting me as I drift through space.

  • John G.


  • Mike

    Shush! You might give SyFy ideas...

  • BWeaves

    Snort, hehehehehehe.

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