Gravity, with Sandra Bullock in the lead role and George Clooney supporting, is an excellent movie for fans of science fiction, but as SF author Rosemary Kirstein points out (and beware spoilers behind that link), it is more science fact than science fiction. Though the events are fictional, the technology underpinning them is not. We have multiple space stations in orbit. We have people who work in space on a regular basis, if not continually. We have taken science fiction, and made it real. We have Star Trek communicators, Star Trek tricorders. We are working on self-driving cars and invisibility cloaks. We’re doing all that with science, and this movie sticks reasonably close to what we know about science.

That said, what makes Gravity such a good movie is not just the science – it’s the tension. For practically the whole movie, I was gripping the edge of my seat with a death grip, to mix a few metaphors.

The graphics were superb. In fact, despite knowing that huge amounts of the film had to be computer generated, I couldn’t tell. That’s a huge step up in the state of the art of computer graphics, even for movies. The portrayal of microgravity in particular was very well done. There are convincingly simulated tears, fire, and action-reaction – at one point the character uses a fire extinguisher on a fire and knocks herself out by forgetting to brace. And later uses the same extinguisher for thrust, which I was personally waiting to see from the moment it was introduced. There were lots of moments like that.

Here are the flaws and questions I noticed:

  • Matt didn’t have to die. While they were having their heartfelt conversation, he wasn’t falling away. He could have let go of the tether (in fact, did let go) and not gone anywhere. Sure, he would be drifting. But so was everything else in the area. All he had to do was take off the backpack and kick it away from the space station. Action -> reaction: he moves towards the spacestation and can probably grab something. That was jarring in a movie that otherwise handles it well.

  • Orbital dynamics is a real problem. It’s less easy to notice if you don’t know offhand, but they used known satellites and stations with known orbits and then got them wrong. Mildly disappointing but not a big deal.

There are other minor quibbles but those were the only ones that leaped out at me as I watched the movie.