Gravity was one of the special-effects sensations of 2013. So much so it was originally intended to be shown exclusively in 3D to be able to appreciate all its magnificent details and especially the effect of weightlessness.

Sandra Bullock plays Doctor Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first Hubble space mission together with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). Their spacecraft is struck by space debris and they end up floating in space adrift from any support.

Our own expert Miguel Ángel Molina, GMV´s  Director of Business Development and Programs offers an answer to the question: is this film realistic?

A rookie astronaut would hardly be able to work as a communications engineer on Hubble after only six months’ training. The star of the film is a medical engineer by profession but she works on the Hubble as though she were an expert astronaut already.

Gravity GMV

– At the start of the film George Clooney’s character spends his time jetting around on space joyrides and telling stories. Space walks are a serious business and this skylarking would certainly not form part of normal working procedures.

– The difference in height between Hubble and the ISS is 250 Km. Going from one to the other would call for an orbital  (Delta V) maneuver to change from one trajectory to another . This would take some time but in the film they do it in seconds using their thruster packs.

Using a fire extinguisher as a makeshift thruster is pure make-believe. It would be impossible to control anything using a fire extinguisher in this way.

Spacecraft reentry would be impossible in the way shown in the film. Re-entry requires a perfect calculation of the speed and atmospheric reentry angle to avoid any chance of rebound. In the film no analysis of these factors is made at all. In fact Sandra Bullock’s character doesn’t even understand the computer since it is speaking in Chinese.

– The hair of one of the dead crew members is shown floating as it would be in space but Sandra Bullock’s perfectly coiffured locks barely move. In a weightlessness situation the hair would be floating around and doing its own thing.

Pelo Gravity

Differences between Sandra Bullock’s hair movements in the Soyuz in the film (left) and those of NASA engineer Karen L. Nyber on a real mission

– The space debris scene shows it coming on as a swarm. Space debris clouds normally break up as soon as they are formed. In the aftermath everything has been destroyed. There is no known case of real space debris having this effect.

– The formation of the debris and the time it takes to arrive is hardly credible, although not impossible. It’s true they have to give the impression that everything is happening in an unforeseeable manner.

– When Sandra Bullock takes off her spacesuit, her underwear looks very skimpy. Astronauts would know better, but I imagine their under-suit garments are a lot bulkier.

– The way George Clooney’s character drifts off is a little strange.  Sandra could have pulled hir back towards her with a little tug but he seems to be drawn away by an irresistible force.

Gravity GMV

Some scenes were shot in a swimming pool to fake the effects of weightlessness

– There are some moments in the film when the weightlessness is noticeable but others, especially the shots of Sandra inside the spacecraft, when everything looks normal (as in Star Wars or Star Trek when weightlessness does not exist). The unrealistic hair movements and internal movements inside the spacecraft are largely responsible for this.

Despite all these faults the images are really striking and weightlessness has generally been brilliantly depicted. It can’t have been easy to shoot all this.


Author: Miguel Ángel Molina

Director of Business Development and Programs

Las opiniones vertidas por el autor son enteramente suyas y no siempre representan la opinión de GMV
The author’s views are entirely his own and may not reflect the views of GMV

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