'Gravity' Is Exactly Like 'Vertical Limit,' So Let's Talk This Through
Now that the Sandra Bullock, George Clooney hit Gravity has been in theaters close to a month, I think it's time we discuss how this movie is just like the Chris O'Donnell classic from 2000, Vertical Limit. You guys remember that movie, right? Robin Tunney, Bill Paxton, Scott Glen as the amazing Montgomery Wick... the movie was fantastic, no matter what the critics might say, and it's no wonder that Alfonso Cuaron wanted to remake it. Because Gravity is basically Vertical Limit, in space. (Just go with it, okay?) Spoilers ahead for both movies, obviously.
Here's how they're identical:
The Cut The Rope Scenes
Vertical Limit starts off with Peter Garrett (O'Donnell), his sister Annie (Tunney), and father Royce scaling a mountain face in sunny Arizona or Utah or some shit. It's all fun and games and sing-a-longs until some stupid ass rookie climbers ahead of them lose control, fall, and rip out the Garrett family's carabiner that was keeping them safe. Yada yada yada, all three of them are dangling on one of the holds, and they're too heavy. Royce, an expert in the mountain climbing field, knows if something isn't done soon, they're all going to die, so he begs Peter to cut the rope. "CUT THE ROPE, PETER! YOU'RE KILLING YOUR SISTER!" Intense. Eventually, Peter reluctantly obliges, and Royce falls to his death. With less weight strain on the rope, Peter and sister Annie are able to reclaim a grip on the mountain, and survive.
Sound familiar, Gravity lovers? It should, because that's basically what happens to Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (Clooney). They're caught in a rogue parachute rope and if one of them doesn't let go, the rope will break, sending them both to drift off into outer space. Though Kowalski can't convince Stone to cut the line and save herself, he untethers his end, and goes bye-bye forever.
Which movie did it better? For this scene, the prize definitely goes to Vertical Limit. Hellooo, there's that amazing visual of Royce's limp body slamming into the hard earth. That was terrific, and so was Peter's sweaty brow. With Stone and Kowalski, the drama was intense, but it left us with false hope. At least with Vertical Limit, we knew that Royce was dead, and never, ever coming back.
The Lack of Oxygen
Two words: Pulmonary edema. You had no idea what that meant until it was explained over and over, and over and over again in Vertical Limit. There was nary a character that didn't suffer from this while trying to survive on the world's deadliest mountain, and we were treated to visuals of them coughing up blood, taking small breaths, and slowly drowning in their own lung fluid. A+.
In Gravity, Stone suffers from a lack of O2, as well, of course. As her oxygen levels plummet, Kowalski orders her to sip her air like wine; it's not to be gulped like beer. Once she starts getting light-headed from inhaling her own carbon dioxide, things get dicey. Will she have enough air to make it to that part in the shuttle that apparently has air? YES. Phew, crisis averted.... until it's not and she runs out of air and again, and again. And again.
Which movie did it better? Got to go with Gravity on this one. At least in the mountains, there is some air — in space there is zero, and that really ups the anxiety levels.
Both movies are spun into catastrophe when rocks go haywire. In Vertical Limit, a nitroglycerin explosion (don't ask) shakes the mountain and kills off a guy, and when there's a crack in the ice, Annie and Paxton's character Vaughn become trapped in a cave. Do I dare ask if you remember how the director chose to depict the deadly avalanche of rock and snow? That's right, WITH STOCK FOOTAGE. It is one of the worst "special effects" in movie history, and totally takes the viewer right out of the experience and thrusts them into memories of fifth grade science class, which is where we last saw this avalanche footage. It is hilarious. And awful.
In Gravity, the debris is some combination of space rock and satellite detritus that is flung into high-speed orbit after a Russian missile strikes a defunct satellite (don't ask). The shit comes flying at Explorer and rips the shuttle to shreds, killing everyone except Stone and Kowalski.
Which movie did it better? LOL. Please.
The Creative Use of Random Objects
The two films feature their cast in total isolation — both the mountain climbers and the astronauts lose touch with base camp and are left to figure it out for themselves. In Vertical Limit, a spare nitroglycerin tank and a sack of blood are used to signal for help and in Gravity, Stone makes amazing use of the fire extinguisher to propel her the Chinese space station.
Which movie did it better? It's too close to call. Both ideas were ingenious and convincingly plausible.
The Stumbling Upon of Dead People
When Montgomery Wick finds his dead wife perfectly frozen in the side of a mountain, it was a chilling scene that warmed the heart. When Stone found her fellow space travelers dead in the shuttle, it was a chilling scene that made me want to kill myself. It was horrible. Their faces! So hallow.
Which movie did it better? Oof. Toughie, but Gravity takes it here. While it was fun to laugh at the popsicle human in Vertical Limit, Stone's discoveries in Gravity were disturbing, which was pretty fun.
Resilience in the Aftermath of Disaster
Stone hugs the muddy sand on the shore of a lake after re-entering the earth; Annie hugs Peter at the base of K2. Both movies have happy endings, despite the hour and a half we spent watching everyone die.
Which movie did it better? Gravity wins this race because Gravity 2: Survivor Island is going to be amazing.
So folks, if you don't want to brave the crowds and pay $20 to see Gravity in 3D IMAX, renting Vertical Limit for like, a dollar, is just as good. Almost.
Images: Columbia Pictures; Warner Bros.