Gravity – a review

What is this? You may ask (Fortasse requiris – sorry, that structure always reminds me of Catullus). She’s reviewing film!? Yes, yes I am. Because I can and because it’s a set up that would work very well in a theatrical sense.

It would be foolish of me to say that the following sentence contains spoilers – the visuals are *stunning*. That goes without saying – the amount of work and the size of the team working their technical wizardry has paid off. It basically has to be seen in 3D. Mindboggling. The variety of long shot and close-up to contrast between the sublime and the claustrophobic are really done masterfully here.  I could basically look at that for hours, without any plot. This leads me neatly to my next point.

The set up is rather absurdist. Not absurdist in the “Haha! That’s absurd!” sense, but in the Beckettian notion of shouting into the void (quite apt in the realms of space). Sandra Bullock, George Clooney and their crew are attacked by debris caused by a satellite explosion, which causes a chain reaction of chaos, confusion and a chain of incredibly bad luck as they try to find their way to each other. Ultimately though, it’s about Sandra Bullock’s story of survival and her means to overcome the losses that she has experienced on Earth. There are no aliens, no monsters (except in our own heads), no other civilisations – we are the only ones kicking in this universe. The overriding message is: there’s nothing to see here, folks, so enjoy the view.

There is an extended metaphor of birthing, which isn’t new when it comes to art dealing with the representation of space. Think of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example. I also dealt with this Russian Doll effect in Cuckoos and Chrysalids (although it’s about how people will use technology to privatise and conquer both spaces – the womb and space itself). It’s very apparent in one scene whereby Sandra Bullock floats in a fetal position, having escaped near death by another debris shower, enjoying what peace she has (unsurprisingly, it’s short lived). It’s tense, repetitive and ultimately meaningless, but it’s her story that gives it meaning. There is a scene where she shouts to the radio, where the crew replies in Chinese. She sings along with them, enjoying this connection that transcends the language barrier; only to find out that they’re singing to a child and not to her. There is a spiritual essence in the strength of her character in the face of almost certain imminent death and no hope of rescue – her escape will ultimately be a re-birthing, to emerge from the void once more.

And yes, Gravity is sexist, quite strongly so. I do realise that Sandra Bullock is inexperienced in the mechanics of space flight and George Clooney is the veteran, but even when she’s a brilliant medical doctor, he advises her when her oxygen is low, to “breathe slowly. You’re inhaling CO2 now, which will make you feel dizzy”. Patronising much!? Even I could tell that! There even is a segment whereby Bullock mentions on several occasions that she never manages to park correctly on the simulator, and has to rely on the instruction manual. Really? Really, guys? A lot of screen time is also taken up by her being tethered around by Clooney, who flirts with her rather oddly, but hey – it’s George Clooney. And Bechdel Test!? What Bechdel Test?

I’m not going to say much, because I can’t really without giving the ending away (I could tell you the whole plot in a sentence without leaving much out) that in terms of visuals –  it’s an absolutely stunning experience. I saw this film with a friend whose background is in Artificial Intelligences and Physics and he is basically the most intelligent person I know – when he says it’s pretty much accurate apart from a few issues here and there, I’m inclined to believe him.

Over-productivity – Hot or Not?

Rather ironic, given my sporadic blogging, but it’s a thought I came across when I impulsively bought a ticket for WTF13. It was a thoroughly thought provoking conference and although I could only spend the morning there, I spent my time scribbling odd notes in my moleskin (work leaving present, it’s beautiful) instead of live tweeting (funny that, given the ttile – WTF = Writing The Future). There were some great talks – but the one I’m focusing on today is about over-productivity.

For those who have been dubbed the “lazy generation”, there is an overwhelming abundance of material created – text, video, image, app, programs that, in their many forms, have clogged every electric pore. It’s not melodrama when you consider 90% of data created in the world today has been created in the last 2 years ago, creating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day, according to IBM analytics. 

A quintillion, for those who ask, is in academic speak – a frigging big number. As it’s one of those numbers where we can’t quite imagine the exact magnitude, Maria Conner on her blog Data on Big Data can help us to put things in perspective:

This vast amount of digital data would fill DVD stack reaching from the Earth to moon and back. To put things in perspective, the entire works of William Shakespeare (in text form) represent about 5 MB of data. So, you could store about 1,000 copies of Shakespeare on a single DVD. The text in all the books in the Library of Congress would fit comfortably on a stack of DVDs the height of a single-story house.

I don’t know about you, but there are so many things to read. So many things to watch. So many ways to occupy our time that “boredom” or “inactivity” is now a virtue. Time is the most precious thing we have, therefore the most marketable. We read reviews, wikipedia etc. before committing to something long-term. We want to know we’re getting our time’s worth. This is why series (amongst other things) do so well – we’ve got our emotional attachment so the hooks are already well and truly in. This is the same for our favourite authors and so on, of course. You don’t want to know how many books are on my list (some old, some new) that I’ve been meaning to catch up on, as well as film and TV series. I’m sure we all have lists somewhere, even if purely mental. And so the cycle continues, consuming and creating (hmm… sounds pretty dodgy).

I write probably more than I read at the moment, which is probably not the best solution. Molly Flatt in the WTF13 likened us to the part of the brain that feels it is under pressure – the amygdala (sp!) that makes us produce vast amounts of material/gush – that we feel that we must constantly create, express etc. It can be easier to sand down to build up, that’s for sure, but there must be a time for letting off steam. It can’t be constantly dialled up to 100.

So be sure to take stock sometimes and let yourself be open to ideas. You’d be surprised what things click when doing errands, or just taking a walk, or chatting with friends/family. I’ve had so many ideas from doing these things.

I’ve just done a big hand in for this year, so I’m proto-chilling (not quite), but with so many open-ended plays, I’ve decided to take a break from them and focus on little projects here and there. It’s not like me, I like to see projects through. However, I think it’s good to air out things – if only for a little while.

The Long and Short of it… Dramatic presentation at the Hugos

Now, we all know awards season is in the air – like it or hate it, there’s an excitement in the air as people devour and reread the books that they would like to recommend, are recommended, the ones that got away etc. The internet hums with discussion pre and post awardage, which is actually a pretty good feeling. Then again, I’ve only of course seen it from the outside looking in. SF is famed for having so many cross channels of communication (it is classically in its nature, after all), but there are glimmers of discussion that cross the genre boundary and venture out into the mainstream. Very exciting it is, too.

Obviously, Best Novel and so on is one of the big guns and most speculation is delivered that way. I will probably do another post for that, but for now I want to focus on Dramatic presentation.

I don’t want to go into detail on this, but to open up a discussion. Arguably less speculation and dialogue goes into these two categories, because, well… let’s say it’s easier to call the winner, perhaps, than the novel. I can understand that. Shows like Game of Thrones and Doctor Who has mass appeal by the bucket load, and it adds a certain something to a whole load of viewers, no matter what their viewing tastes are.

When you take the definition of the award into account: “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music”, it would be interesting to see more horses in the race. The films that have won from the beginning have really helped to define the genre (for better or worse, depending on your slant), but I for one would like to see a wider board of entries in terms of media, especially with the Long/Short divide. I know that Lucas Back in Anger was a nomination in 2006  and as much as I love satire, it’d be nice to see a wider range that theatre provides as well as this form. After all, I don’t think you need telling that SF in theatre is incredibly marginalised and is usually associated with simply a comedic representation. Awards are effective, I feel, not only in rewarding the people involved, but also to show their work to the public. It’d be great if SF theatre in more forms were out there (yes, it is out there) for the recognition and reward of seeing the genre in a different light. That’s just me though, and I am of course biased. I research SF theatre for my PhD, after all. It’s not me wanting an award either (although I’m sure we’ve done the fake acceptance speech with a water bottle, right? Right?), but I think theatre is a great arena for staging SF and music and videogames have their own takes on immersion and affectation that would be nice to see in the limelight too.

Because of this, I want to open it out to you all. Do you feel there is an elephant in the room  when it comes to dramatic representation or are you happy with the way it’s been going so far? Over to you, guys.

Proof of Age

It’s most likely not co-incidence that on my birthday weekend when I came to see my family for a visit and candle blowing session on Sunday that they showed me some videos of my past. They had found some old VHS tapes and digitized them, seeing many cuts and flashes of scenes half familiar but all totally astounding. These were amazing scenes that made me very emotional seeing again, and it makes me realise how important documenting is, from the wax etchings to the papyrus to the printing press to the camera to the extensive range of documenting capabilities that we have today.

One of the videos that I saw was when I was turning 6 years old, which was almost 20 years ago now. To feel that I was part of something 20 years ago, that I can say 20 years ago and know that I was alive then is much more poignant than just saying that I’m 25 (to me, it’s hard to explain it). I recognise all the faces there and it makes me remember such good times. What actually strikes me is how hindsight can change the viewing of the video so much – like watching the beginning of series 1 of a TV drama when you’re in series 5 and so on.

The piece de resistance though was the video we had made at Orlando Studios – which does in fact relate to my PhD, weirdly enough. We had a green screen studio experience of Star Trek – which I remember sitting on crates and reading lines (which, without boasting too much, I did at the age of 6 – this year must have been me at my peak haha). The experience left me having been reprimanded by Sulu for pressing the wrong button and my brother testing the ship’s phasers, whilst my mum and dad (vulcan and captain respectively), had a gag photon detonator to fool the Klingons.

It’s so funny and I love that it’s been finally digitised. It’s scary to see how little things do change with time, as we usually only focus on what has been gained or lost. I could see a lot of my personality in my 6 year old self as she dances oddly in my family garden, but why I stuck my tongue out at the camera, I’ll never know (I don’t normally do that, that was the only thing that struck me as odd).

It’s true that as a kid, you hate staying still for the camera (or at least I did), but now I see how valuable it is.

Plus, I almost dance exactly the same as I did there as in nightclubs. Disturbing on many a level…