Special Features – What Hollywood studios could learn from Gravity‏

Anghus Houvouras on what Hollywood studios could learn from Gravity….

Gravity Poster

Gravity is a hit.  Overwhelming critical praise, a huge swell of buzz from the online film community, talk of it being a potential award contender and $55 million dollars in tickets sold on opening weekend.  It’s an achievement that deserves to be celebrated. There’s a few lessons we can learn from Gravity’s success…

1. It’s a ‘cinematic experience’ at a time when so few blockbusters deliver on that promise…

The phrase ‘a cinematic experience’ is bandied about so carelessly stating that films can only truly be experiences on the big screen.  There was an advert before the Gravity screening for a campaign called ‘Go Big of Go Home’ touting Ender’s Game as an example of a movie that can’t be truly experienced on a television.  Hogwash. 

Gravity is the most salient example of a cinematic experience I’ve seen since Avatar.  And unlike Avatar, Gravity isn’t a massive suck-fest.  Gravity is a cinematic experience, from the shot construction to the sound design.  The entire film has an immersive quality missing in so many movies.  Gravity is a movie that should be seen in the theater (preferably IMAX if you have one available) and is very much the fulfillment of the promise of what 3D can be when implemented with care instead of the post-production conversion serving as an excuse for studios to charge an extra thee bucks a pop. 

2. An original, big budget blockbuster doesn’t need to cost $200 million…

Sandra Bullock in GravityWe live in a time where Hollywood studios are interested in low risk propositions.  Sequels, prequels, adaptations, re-boots, and re-imaginings rule the production slate.  It’s simple economics.  No matter how much audiences complain about getting stale product, it’s still a safer bet than an unknown quantity.  Studios are more likely to put out known quantities like The Lone Ranger and Battleship than they are to finance more original works like Elysium or Pacific Rim.  For the past decade Hollywood has been becoming more stingy with the idea of original properties and have become masters of risk aversion.  In no small part because these event movies cost upwards of $200 million or more.  At $100 million, the opportunity for more original spectacles exist.  Halving the cost means halving the risk, and more unique stories can make their way to the big screen. 

If Pacific Rim had been made for $100 million, the sequel would have already been moving into pre-production.

3. Size doesn’t matter…

Just because you spend $100 million dollars on a movie doesn’t mean it has to be two hours plus in length.  Part of Gravity’s perfection is it’s tight, compact storytelling.  It’s a very small survival story set amidst a very large backdrop. While the visuals are grand some of the set pieces quite epic, it’s still a very tightly woven story of two people trying to survive in an unforgiving landscape.  Hollywood has been hell bent on making their big budget movies ‘epic’ mandating overblown third act shenanigans in order to make audiences feel like they just saw something huge and worthy of the price of admission.  The reality is that a good story doesn’t require noise to sell the gravitas.  Gravity is a film the understands the need for noise, but also the importance of silence.

And at 90 minutes, it also understands the importance of not being needlessly long.  I wish more filmmakers would take a cue and start trimming the fat from their pointlessly long productions.   Gravity doesn’t have an ounce of fat to trim.  I wish more big budget filmmakers were capable of this kind of restraint.

4. It delivers on the promise of all this new technology…

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in GravityCuaron has been at the forefront of implementing all this new technology in a more subtle fashion.  Children of Men (one of my favorite movies) used digital technology to weave scenes together seamlessly.  This allowed Cuaron to craft long scenes that appeared to be a single take.  The end result was some mesmerizing visual work that helped increase the tension in scenes by never having to cut away from the main character.  Audiences were given little time to breathe which helped sell the tension of the film’s thrilling, heartbreaking final act.  Gravity takes that mentality and turns it up to 11.  So many films employ special effects in the laziest ways.  Explosions, giant monsters, a thousand pieces of information filling every frame bludgeoning your senses with noise (the third act of Iron Man 3 springs to mind).  Cuaron uses the same technology to not only make something beautiful, but to string together moments into one beautiful movement.  It’s practically symphonic.

Gravity is practically a master class on embracing technology to deliver something sublime, rather than using it to fuck my brain senseless.

5. It’s an event film in October…

Audiences could use a few more event movies like Gravity that aren’t tied to the Summer or the end of year Holiday season.  It proves people will line up for tickets if you give them something worth watching no matter what time of year it’s released. 

Let’s hope the commercial and critical success of Cuaron’s masterful thriller teaches Hollywood that there is still an ample opportunity to produce a smart, big budget blockbuster that will satisfy both audiences and accountants. 

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.


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  • jedi77

    I don’t think this necessarily is a lesson Hollywood doesn’t already know. Isn’t the problem simply that there are very few directors out there with the skill and imagination to create films like Gravity – regardless of studio inteference?
    I donøt think Hollywood i averse to making good films, I just think it’s extremely difficult to make good films. That is why there are so few of them around.