Somehow, this movie contrives to make space seem both vast and claustrophobic -- vast because, well, it is, and claustrophobic because every time the characters turn around they're bumping into satellites or each other or just plain getting tangled up in things. It's also a study in how many things can go horribly wrong, though thankfully it manages to do that in less annoying fashion than some movies I could mention.

Sandra Bullock (Premonition) plays Dr. Ryan Stone (her dad wanted a boy), a medical engineer who's working for NASA as a mission specialist. They're vague about the exact date this is supposed to be happening, but presumably it's set after the government shutdown is over since NASA is actually up and running.

The mission commander is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, Ocean's 13), and while I've often thought his charm was slightly smarmy, it works here somehow. He isn't exactly smarmy, but he does tend to bore Mission Control half to death by repeating the same stories over and over. Mission Control is Ed Harris of Phantom, by the way, though you'll have to be able to recognize his voice since they never do show his face.And with only seven credited actors, there aren't a lot of faces to show in the first place.

Anyway, Dr. Stone is hooking something up to the Hubble telescope, though we never get the exact details of the gadget, just that it's supposed to help study the far reaches of the universe. It doesn't seem quite like something a medical engineer would be dealing with, but there we are. They're working away peacefully, with Ryan also working hard to keep her lunch down, when the Russians manage to mess everything up. Wouldn't you just know it? Apparently they had some old spy satellite they didn't want anymore, so they shot it with a missile. Then bits of that satellite hit other satellites, and before you know it there's this huge mess of a debris field orbiting Earth and ruining everything.

It certainly ruins the day for our heroes, who find themselves without any way to get back to Earth, or at least not any way that won't get them burnt to a cinder at the same time. Then there's the fact that they have nothing really solid to hang onto, and in space that's a big deal. They also have to contend with communication problems, lack of fuel, lack of oxygen, and fires, and that's aside from the nasty, sharp debris field that sweeps through every hour and a half to see what other havoc it can cause.

Despite taking place largely in a vacuum, it's a very atmospheric sort of movie, quietly tense. "Thriller" is probably the closest genre for it, but it's a far cry from the usual sort of movie that gets that label, and in this case that's a very good thing. It was even scientifically accurate as far as I could tell... which admittedly isn't very far, but there was nothing glaringly wrong. So I'll go with four and a half out of five. Whether it's the script or the director or both, any movie that makes me like George Clooney has to be amazingly good.

This gives you an idea of how much stuff gets turned into space junk.


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