The 3.142 Ridiculous Scientific Mistakes in Gravity and Why They Completely Ruin All Films Ever Made Both Past & Future

Gravity

Gravity FINALLY came out at the weekend and this film fan was particularly pleased to finally have his eyeballs treated to the visual spectacle that Alfonso Cuarón has concocted. Reaction on the internet, and in old-fashioned “we’ve inked words onto dead trees” newspapers, has mostly fallen into one of two camps:

1. OMFG! That is the best film I have ever seen! It has made me reconsider not just my stance on 3D but reaffirmed my belief in cinema as an art form and life itself as a worthwhile pastime.
2. WTF! This film is not scientifically accurate at all. All Sci-Fi films must 100% accurate! You can’t spell Science Fiction without “peer-reviewed facts”! You Hollywood bastards!

Some reactions fall a little into both camps and presumably there are even some people out there less keen on spouting their opinions online who simply found the film to be “alright” and don’t get too worried about whether the science holds up or not. These people are a strange breed I’m going to label as “normals”.

Personally I think I fall into the first category, though possibly with less gushing and more conservative head-nodding. Gravity is a visually stunning film with a nice simple plot that is executed in groundbreaking fashion. Sure the dialogue isn’t up to much and certain liberties have been taken with science and logistics but that isn’t what Gravity is about. This is a straightforward thriller about being stranded in space and one that wants you to believe what you are seeing. The live action and CGI imagery are blended so well by London’s own Framestore that the film was totally authentic and believable. I have never been up in space but I reckon it looks a whole lot like it does in Gravity and if you popped George Clooney and Sandra Bullock up there they would closely resemble what we see onscreen.

The film is so well crafted and gorgeously shot I couldn’t care less about the science. This is storytelling, not a science lesson.

Gravity Still

Using what little I can remember from my Physics degree (they don’t call me Tim Brandon BSc for nothing often enough) the science in Gravity isn’t actually too bad. One major point of contention for angry nerds is the scene pictured above. Not wanting to spoil the film for anyone all I will say is that I don’t think **** could have pulled #### in as **** was still decelerating themselves. Lets not forget Newton’s three laws of motion… To slow down #### they need a force applied to them and if **** applies that force then the same force will act on them in the opposite direction. As **** is still slowing down and their foot is slowly coming loose any act of pulling #### could move them further from safety.

For more detail see this article in the Washington Post or buy me a mulled wine. A lot of the internet disagrees with me but then that’s nothing new is it?

That debate aside I can only really see three problems you can have with the inaccuracies in Gravity:

1. Debris would not behave in the way it does in the film
2. Satellites would not line up and allow astronauts to travel between them so easily
3. The shuttles were not precise replicas of the real things and the astronauts did not behave as their genuine counterparts should

If you were to try to fix (1) you would have no set-up to the film, if you fix (2) you would have nowhere for the film (or its characters) to go after the initial disaster, and (3) is only going to bother real astronauts or someone hoping to use this film as an instructional video.

I wouldn’t suggest anyone use Gravity to revise for a Physics test or for NASA to include in their training programme but none of that matters. All you need to ask is whether Gravity is a beautifully shot and innovative film that is incredibly tense and deeply engrossing. The answer to that question is yes. Everything else is just noise and as any good physicist will tell you; there’s no noise in space*.

*Picture me very pleased with myself