Belfast Telegraph

Gravity comes down to earth with a rather modest bump

By Mike Gilson

Film critics are strange people, aren't they? On the face of it, not a bad job. But you have to sit watching movie after movie in the morning surrounded by other deadly serious followers of art.

There's no popcorn, or meal with wine afterwards to discuss what you've seen. Just the need to write 1,000 words that are better and wiser than the guy, or girl, sitting next to you. In other words, there's none of the context you and I take with us when we enter the movie house.

I thought about this last weekend, when I went to see Gravity. You will undoubtedly have heard about this film. It stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as two astronauts stuck in space. The real stars are the weightless void and the beautiful blue planet down below them. Those critics have got themselves in to a froth about Gravity, throwing five stars at it as if there weren't enough of those in the film already. It is an event. Talked of for next year's Oscars already.

I rarely go to see a film on the basis of what the papers say, but I did this time. In particular, the reviewer for the Sunday Times got herself a case of the vapours over it.

Read this: "I crawled out of the cinema gasping and half weeping... I felt emotionally and physically sodden." Wow. This film had to be seen, didn't it?

Had you been in Leicester Square, or wherever these critics meet at 11am, and seen a reviewer literally (for she does not suggest anything else) crawling out of the cinema on all fours, gasping for air and crying after seeing a film, you too, would want to see what all the fuss was about, wouldn't you?

After you'd called for an ambulance, that is. Well, I have another review for you. And that is that Gravity is... wait for it: all right.

Look, that ain't gonna get itself on the posters, but that, I think, is closer to what the film is. I can report that none of the audience in my theatre had to be given oxygen by the St John Ambulance at the end. It is beautifully filmed, for sure; perfectly, but minimally, acted and has a simply preposterous sequence of action events towards the end, leading to a classically cop-out Hollywood ending.

It is worth seeing, for sure. But if this if a five-star film, what could you give Citizen Kane, or Viridiana, or Gone with the Wind? Or Jaws, for that matter?

What I think might be happening here is that Gravity is unlike most modern Hollywood films and for that critics have been disproportionately grateful. It actually gives its audience credit for being able to watch a single frame that lasts longer than a minute without cutting away to a gormless face, or a car chase. Time passes quickly and there is a genuinely affecting scene in which Sandra Bullock, facing death, listens to the burblings of a Chinese radio ham down on earth, who she'd hoped would be her saviour.

I suppose I raise this small point because I think we are surrounded by so much hyperbole these days that we risk existing in a constant state of disappointment when we experience the subject of such florid praise for ourselves. Genuinely breathtaking art (yes, I believe the brief deprivation of air to the lungs is indeed possible during such an experience), is so scarce that the critics are like starving Antarctic pack dogs fighting over the last scrap of penguin meat. Or maybe they just want to see themselves on the movie posters.

Nowhere is this gap between hype and reality so wide as in the book trade. Most new books are garbage, the industry spewing forth so many identikit historical romance boilers and cut-and-paste soft porn adventures written by keyboard Edward Scissorhands it's hard to find a gem. The very night I had a mildly enjoyable night at the cinema I was reading one of the latest from William Boyd, Waiting for Sunrise. Boyd is one of the best writers we have, but the book is festooned with praise such as "literary event of the year", "breathlessly (here we go again!) readable" and, wait for it "may-the-lord-strike-me-down terrific".

Well, Mr Spectator Magazine Critic, the lightning may have just hit, for Waiting for Sunrise is a decent page-turner and that's about it. Doubt that's going to get on the jacket, though.

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