NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield has been to space three times, has participated in two space walks, and has served as the commander of the International Space Station. Hadfield joined Vanity Fair this week to review space films such as Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” James Gray’s “Ad Astra,” and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but no movie is the object of the astronaut’s scorn as much as Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity.” Hadfield admits Cuarón’s 2013 Oscar winner boasts great visual effects and a magnificent depiction of a space walk in its opening scene, but that’s about it when it comes to praise. Much of “Gravity” is “so far from reality that I want to turn my head,” Hadfield says in the video below.
Hadfield’s first major criticism is how extremely “Gravity” violates the laws of physics. Take the scene where a satellite crashes into the International Space Station. “The satellite goes whizzing by at about maybe 120 miles per hour,” the astronaut says. “The real satellites are going 5 miles a second, 17-and-a-half thousand miles an hour. How that satellite in the film is going by where you can identify what it is [makes no sense].”
An even more egregious physics error occurs when Sandra Bullock’s character detaches herself from a mechanical arm that has broken off the space station. “When she releases her little strap, she flies away in a whole new direction as if there was some force on Sandra that wasn’t on the arm,” Hadfield says. “How come she has a different gravity than the arm does?”
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Hadfield can look past scientific errors for the sake of cinema, but what he can’t forgive “Gravity” for is depicting behavior that isn’t true to real astronauts. As he explains, “Everyone on the crew, the dialogue, they’re all yelling back to Houston as if Houston is going to help them right here. George Clooney is asking permission to go help Sandra Bullock. It’s not astronaut behavior. It’s not logical behavior. It’s so execrable from actual, practical realities of space flight.”
The movie’s depiction of Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, is unforgivable. Hadfield says, “The most experienced astronaut in American history is a woman, it’s Peggy Whitson. In this movie, Sandra Bullock has only been an astronaut for less than a year. When she’s faced with a problem, she’s panicking and has no idea what to do. George Clooney is driving around like some sort of space cowboy and he’s the only one who has any idea what’s going on. I think it set back a little girl’s vision of what a woman astronaut can be an entire generation.”
Hadfield continues, “Sandra Bullock did a great job of portraying the character in the movie but the character that they wrote for her was disappointing. That’s what I would’ve changed. Get it to represent what astronauts are really like and then build the story around that. Don’t just make it the perils of [this woman] and she needs George Clooney to magically save the day and tell her what book to open to do the right thing.”
Watch Hadfield’s full Vanity Fair interview on space movies in the video below.