Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has some feedback for Gravity, the film apparently everyone saw this weekend. His criticism of the film, gifted to the world on Twitter this Sunday, is kind of the genius version of what happens when journalists start nitpicking "Newsroom." Facing a dramatized version of his specialist subject, it looks like Tyson saw the film in a way that most weekend viewers didn't. And he doesn't seem to be particularly impressed:
Overall, critics seem to really like Alfonso Cuarón's latest film — our own Richard Lawson approaches the imperative tense in his recommendation to see Gravity. But the film doesn't quite hold together scientifically, even as it's scarily realistic enough to provoke some interesting questions. While, as Tyson noted, Gravity "depicts a scenario of catastrophic satellite destruction that can actually happen," it's impossible for astronauts to travel from Hubble to the International Space Station, as is the goal Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's characters in the film. Speaking to the Atlantic, Gravity's science advisor Dr. Kevin Grazier, an astrophysicist, put it this way:
"Often a story worth telling can fall apart if there is a complete dedication to perfect science. The goal is to make everything seem grounded enough in the physical world that it seems real. So story trumps science every time."
The imagined possibility of getting between Hubble and ISS, despite their different orbits, is one of those scientific sacrifices to story in a film that, in Grazier's mind, has otherwise done its homework. Judging by the overall positive reaction to the film, that imaginative leap is more than justified for most viewers of the film. But the problem hasn't gone unnoticed: the New York Times also honed in on the "plot hole" of vastly different orbits between origin and destination for the stranded characters in the film. Tyson noticed the problem too — not only is travel between the two impossible, but the film also depicts them as in sight lines of each other. Here are some other errors Tyson spotted:
Gravity entered the box office at kind of an awkward time for some space lovers. NASA, which celebrated its 55th anniversary on Tuesday, is all but completely closed for business during the government shutdown (its latest Mars mission, however, will go ahead as scheduled). The shutdown has hit the agency especially hard, too. Ninety-seven percent of NASA's workers, about 18,000 people, are furloughed, and even the interns are getting kicked out of the Ames Lodge dormitories until the shutdown is over. And while it's not up to us to determine the context of Tyson's concluding tweet of his Gravity review, the juxtaposition of the film (however excellent) and the shutdown does raise the following question for many:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.