Having determined that the common theme was “the year of the scam” I confess that that’s about it for exploring connections or linkages in these movies.
So, I’ll just take them in twos—and share my observations.
Gravity and Captain Phillips
Gravity is the whiz-bang special effects movie nominee. We saw the movie in 3-D, definitely the way to see it. Of course, we were impressed with the technical know-how and the verisimilitude of the space voyage.
Gravity presents a space shuttle mission with Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) who is on her first space shuttle mission AND she is performing a spacewalk to fix the Hubble Telescope.
Now, right there, I should have been suspicious. A rookie astronaut. OK. A medical doctor. OK. Performing a spacewalk on her first space shuttle mission. Wait just a minute.
She is accompanied by a veteran astronaut, good-old-boy Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney). This is his last mission, and his primary goal is to break the record for space walks. He is buzzing around in rocket propelled free form, untethered from the space shuttle. Ryan is, of course, tethered.
When they get a message from Mission Control that a defunct satellite is disintegrating, and the debris is out of control and likely to hit the space shuttle, the astronauts try to complete their repairs. Not soon enough—of course. The marvelous effects of the movie very convincingly show the space debris pelting the space shuttle, which is destroyed.
And so the adventure of the whole movie begins. Kowalski persuades Ryan to unhitch her tether, and when she tumbles and somersaults through space, you tumble with her.
I will let the remainder of the adventure for you to see. There is little character development in this movie, and the plot is the real engine of the story. What will happen next? As viewer, you watch anxiously with each unfolding challenge. My feet were sweating through major parts of this movie. (I would consider myself “gravity” challenged. As my family knows, I am not fond of heights—e.g. Ferris wheels high off the ground.) You know little about the characters, and learn almost nothing about them. As a result, your only identification with them is our common shared human condition.
While Bullock’s acting is first-rate and very convincing, I have two complaints about the movie. First, why the ambiguous ending. I don’t want to give it away—but, really, is she saved? Or not? Second, just this—Gravity has no gravitas.
Captain Phillips is another voyage movie. Unlike Gravity, the events depicted in Captain Phillips “really happened.” The story is well-known. Tom Hanks plays Captain Phillips, who is the captain of a container ship Maersk Alabama, which is transporting cargo in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia.
After a brief introduction to Captain Phillips in a family setting, and a drive to the airport with his wife, the remainder of the movie is set at sea. We see him as captain, sense his wariness in the waters he is sailing. His insistence on safety drills seems intelligent, and obviously foreshadowing of the challenges to come.
We also see the Somali pirates and their desperate circumstances as they squabble among themselves. We learn that they are controlled by an almost anonymous leader of the mother ship. As the pirate boat chases the container ship, you experience real excitement in the chase.
When the pirates successfully commandeer the ship, we meet the lead pirate Muse, played by the remarkable newcomer actor Barkhad Abdi. Thus begins the duel between Muse and Phillips for control of the ship. When the pirates succeed, and the pirates flee with Phillips as hostage aboard the small lifeboat, the tension mounts.
As I said, we know the story. We know that the U.S. mounts a rescue effort with the Navy Seal Team Six. The account was well-covered in national news at the time.
What works so well in the movie is that even knowing the story, we still feel the tension. We know how things will turn out, and yet we still grip our seats.
The surprise for me in watching this movie is that I experienced some sympathy for the pirates. Not for their methods, of course, or their means of redressing the inequality of their lives, but for their desperate circumstances that would drive them to such a high stakes dangerous way of securing any kind of living.
So, whichever of these two movies you see—bon voyage.