I’m a big fan of film and of going to the cinema. I’ll grab a plastic glass of red wine from the snack counter, wait for the lights to dim, settle in, and most importantly hope to see a great bit of storytelling.

I have just returned from seeing Gravity, a film which appears to be getting rave reviews everywhere. Ok, so in my world ‘everywhere’ spans Empire, conversations, and my twitter feed, but general consensus is that it’s pretty amazing. Sadly, I was distinctly underwhelmed. The main culprit for this, for me, was the medium of delivery. Many of the rave reviews have focused on the ‘breathtaking’ 3D, something which I was led to believe was an element which shouldn’t be missed. I’m not a fan of 3D as you’ll tell from this, but due to being late to the party I was left with the common problem of there not being any 2D showings, so I put my grumblings to one side and went anyway.

Yes, it’s pretty beautiful, but that’s not hard when you’ve got a gorgeous Earthscape as the backdrop to most of the film. Yes, it’s one of the better implementations of 3D, and the cinematography is very good. It’s entertaining enough, and is tense in parts, but it’s by no means a classic.

My problem with Gravity is that it seems to be a ‘3D and up’ approach. You start with the 3D, you layer a plot on top, and you add touches which exist only to get the audience thinking “WOW, look at the 3D on that!”. The story simply isn’t very good. The acting isn’t that good. The script isn’t very good. I didn’t care about the characters. Flying pens? Yes, we’ve got plenty of those, and it’s that which people appear to be coming out and remembering. It felt like this film was conceived as a vessel for visual effects, and has little substance. I want to watch a film and a story, not a series of loosely coupled 3D set pieces.

The opening scene is kicked off with a playful George Clooney orbiting his colleagues, and he boosts himself in an arc towards us. It is cool, until he jarringly exits and re-enters the frame. He then volunteers to help Sandra Bullock’s lead character, who promptly mis-handles a bolt, which flies towards the audience before a hand reaches out to grab it. This continues throughout, and the final scene (without spoiling anything) has a particular character gazing at debris, which in itself was a poignant enough moment. What it did not need was an overlay of two separate layers of additional detail to add some depth (hard to say what they were without ruining a plot point), both entirely unnecessary and very fake-looking. The scripting, and the shooting of the film were both clearly driven by “What can we put in to make this scene look cooler in 3D?”. This isn’t a problem that is exclusive to Gravity, and plagues many other films ‘made for 3D’.

Just as I don’t think you should ever take a CMS, and go “This technology is awesome. I want to build a website on top of it that doesn’t have anything to say, but will exist purely to show off how amazing the CMS is!”, I think the same applies to film. Websites should be about the why, the purpose, the story, and are just a vessel for meeting your goals. Film is the same for me – start with the story that you want to tell, for the reasons you want to tell it, and remember what’s important. If technology can enhance it, then fantastic, but don’t let it change fundamentals about your tale for the sake of it.

Technology is a brilliant spark for creativity, and can be used as a fantastic driver to engineer some wonderful ideas, but make sure that each of the ideas stand up in their own right and have a reason to exist rather than “the technology can do it”.


Header image courtesy of cris.e on Flickr.