Why, with as much attention as “Gravity” is receiving in glowing film reviews and the entertainment press, do I need to devote column space to it?
Because, alongside praise from critics and breathless features about its technical wonders, I want to add elements of appreciation most others might not.
We all have our personal lenses for consuming popular culture. In this example, I walked into the theater with a lifetime of appreciation for manned space exploration. When most of the world stopped caring about moon missions as soon as Apollo 11 triumphantly returned, I stayed riveted. I hung on every step as Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, Jim Irwin, John Young, Charlie Duke, Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt waked the lunar surface in the three years following Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
If you noticed that my list was in chronological order, you join me in a small and special community of space dorks who look at every film about space travel as an opportunity to be transported into the sense of wonder that such journeys can generate.
I was a wide-eyed adolescent for those moon missions, and I leapt at opportunities to consume films that featured man in space.
I have two memorable chapters in that history-- one familiar, one deeply obscure.
I have the requisite appreciation for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” even though it was a deep swim for me in sixth grade. But from its 1968 release to now, repeated viewings have built my appreciation for the poetic vision of writer Arthur C. Clarke and the visual virtuosity of director Stanley Kubrick.
But I do not consider it first and foremost a space movie. It is a layered essay about man’s fate and the human condition, that just happens to take place in space.
The “Star Wars” films are not space movies. They are swashbuckling popcorn journeys, meandering adventures that happen to take place in space.
For me, a “space movie” is about man’s interaction with the literal realities of what it is like for our fragile frames to venture out beyond the thin, frail womb of Earth. That is part of what riveted me for the actual space flights of my youth, and that is what I craved at the movies.
And around the holidays in 1969, I found it, in a film ignored by many at the time, and ever since. It will go down as one of the more forgotten vehicles for Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman and Richard Crenna, but it grabbed my brain and would not let go.