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Weighing in on the critical merits of over-rated "Gravity"

By Alan Pergament 

I see that the movie "Gravity" set an October box-office record, earning $55.6 million over the weekend.

I want the $34 back that I spent for two 3D tickets to see the heavily-promoted, heavily-praised film Friday night in a New York City movie theater.

(And you think it is expensive to see films in Western New York.)

Now I don't normally write about the movies.

After all, I'm a TV critic. But since "Gravity” co-stars one of my all-time favorite TV stars, George Clooney, and is bound to be discussed and debated on TV shows this week after its huge box office, I feel entitled to weigh in.

First off, I really, really wanted to see this film, especially after I was unable to get a ticket to see it when I attended the Toronto Film Festival a month ago. It was widely considered the best film at the TIFF, where Oscar buzz began.

Confession time. This may be blasphemous for a critic to say, but I don't generally read reviews until after I see films because too many critics give away too many details. However, I do see blurbs in movie advertisements and knew that the reviews of "Gravity" were so positive that you might have thought the director had written them.

So I convinced my girlfriend to go, even though she was skeptical of the entertainment value of the film in which Clooney and Sandra Bullock are essentially the only two characters. They play astronauts trying to get back to earth after a disaster in space. My girlfriend didn't think the plot
could sustain 91 minutes of drama.

It didn't take long to realize that the film was visually stunning, that the characters played by Bullock and Clooney were sketchily-drawn, the symbolism of the film was obvious, and that anyone who understands the narrative structure of film could see what was coming. This includes one scene that is supposed to be a major surprise. 

Here's a quick definition of narrative structure, which this film followed. The characters have a dilemma or something they need to overcome that sets up in Act 1 of the film, it looks like they aren't going to overcome it in Act 2 and then incredibly it all works out in a suspenseful Act 3.

In "Gravity," Clooney and Bullock had to get back to Earth pronto after the space disaster occurred.

As much as I admired the film's high-tech work, the script didn't give me a strong enough reason to care if the characters survived. I also thought it wasn't a great idea to have a matinee idol like Clooney wear a helmet throughout the film so you couldn’t see his face. (To no one’'s surprise,
the writers figured out a way to have Bullock show off her trim body.)

I also pretty much knew how it was going to end because it is pretty hard to build on an opening weekend of $56 million if things don't work out somewhat swimmingly.

During the movie, many people in the audience laughed at some incredible aspects of the film that required you to suspend disbelief way beyond what is considered normal. As the movie ended, there was a little bit of applause but most people left the theater in bored silence.

My girlfriend asked me what I thought as we left the theater. I said I hadn't been more disappointed in a film since positive reviews in 2009 sent me to see a claustrophobic, four-star British science fiction film called "Moon." I went with a close friend back then, who warned me that it might be one of those films that critics love and people hate. Fifteen minutes in, he looked at me and whispered in my ear, "I told you so."

My girlfriend, who had to be persuaded to go see "Gravity," was kind in her assessment. She said she didn't care for it, but wasn't about to blame me for asking her to go.

OK, I was asking you to suspend disbelief there. She said something like, "I'm glad it was your idea to go."

So I went to her apartment and saw that my older son had posted on Facebook that he had gone to see "Gravity" with his girlfriend. I commented on his status that "it was the most overrated film of the year" and that it should have been titled "Inertia."

The next morning, he and his girlfriend both wrote on Facebook that the movie was "terrible." His girlfriend suggested – or complained -- that it was my son's idea to go based on the "awesome" reviews.

Like father, like son.

When I sent out a tweet Saturday morning telling people not to waste their money on "Gravity," a follower I don't know called it the best film of the year, accused me of being a hater and said I didn’t understand it. (Later, another friend of a Facebook friend called me "insane.")

The idea I couldn't understand it was pretty funny. The film's primary message about overcoming life's  tragedies and keep on going was about as subtle as all the tweets I've been reading about the Buffalo Sabres' woes.

The only thing I didn't understand was why the film got such great reviews. Because of the visual effects, I probably would have given it 2 or 2 and a half stars out of 4.

Then my girlfriend and I started reading the "Gravity" reviews. The critical consensus is it is a great film. She discovered that the film got a grade of 98 percent from "Rotten Tomatoes."

Then she found a critic who hated it. And another.  And another.

Clearly, it is love or hate movie. I suspect many people were brainwashed into loving it. But maybe I’m insane. I'm sure the box office for the film will go into the stratosphere and it will be rewarded with numerous Oscar nominations.

But I learned long ago that the best part of being a critic is that you are never wrong as long as you do a good job explaining your opinion.

So forget about my earlier advice, waste your money and see the movie that has knocked off that classic "Paranormal Activity 3" as the film with the highest weekend gross of any October film in history.

If you don't like it, I'm the guy whispering in your ear, "I told you so."



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About Talkin' TV

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament

Alan Pergament has continued to blog about television topics since retiring in 2010 as The News' television writer after 28 years on the beat. From local on-air personalities to ratings to the latest on network and cable programming, he keeps you informed.

@StillTalkinTV |