Trailer Face-Off: Gravity vs. Prince Avalanche
Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Gravity vs. Prince Avalanche, two very different movies about people working in isolation.
Both Gravity and Prince Avalanche focus on a pair of workers isolated from the rest of society, but their approaches are very different. Gravity, from the very sparse trailer, is a movie about two astronauts—Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney)—who are on a space station when it is struck by debris, hurtling one of them off into open space. Kind of like Deep Water, except with the vast, unparalleled, and terrifying vacuum instead of shark-infested waters. Prince Avalanche has something of a lighter tone. Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) are two men who paint lines on a highway in the wilderness. They spend a lot of time alone, together. Alvin seems to enjoy this solitude. Lance seems devote his time to howling at the sun, wearing lab coats, and making models of road lines using mustard. Personality conflicts and, presumably, comedy ensue. While the setting for Gravity is more unusual—far out, if you will—using an isolated workplace as fodder for comedy rather than horror gets the edge for originality.
Advantage: Prince Avalanche
Lance seems to be losing his grip on reality, or perhaps just trying to make the best of a boring situation by introducing some antics into the workplace. Dr. Stone definitely loses her grip on the cord tethering her to the space station and, by extension, safety. Anyone working in an remote location—or who has seen his or her fair share of horror movies—knows just how nerve-wracking it can be when your only companion loses his or her marbles. That being said, Lance is going the genial kind of crazy. The kind where he smokes cigarettes and wears weird clothing—not the kind where he sits in his room muttering to himself threateningly. We’ve all had that one co-worker that needs a talking-to. Whatever anxiety he causes pales in comparison to floating away from a space station while parts of it explode violently. There’s not a whole lot to this trailer other than screaming and grasping for a handhold and yet it is, pun acknowledged but not intended, gripping. Lance’s loose clutch on appropriate behavior is annoying. Dr. Stone’s loose clutch on life is terrifying.
Which is a greater solitude? Some people have felt the true loneliness that grips you when you’re out in the woods, after dark, with a flashlight the only illumination for miles. Few people, we would wager, have felt the isolation of going up into space. Lance and Alvin have an occupation with an immediate and appreciable effect—they’re making sure that cars drive correctly on isolated roads—whereas Dr. Stone and Kowalsky are engaged in a much more theoretical and research-based endeavor. Seriously, what do astronauts even do all day? Wring out towels in outer space? That being said, Alvin can only write to Madison (Gina Grande) to express his frustration at Lance’s behavior. Astronauts, presumably, have some form of Skype-link to earth. Still, Lance or Alvin might occasionally run into another person in their time in the woods. Were Kowalsky and Dr. Stone to run into life during their workday, it would be something of a notable occurrence.
The genres of the films come into play here in a way that renders these films almost incomparable. Paul Rudd is a wonderful, charming actor, especially when playing the type of wry, buttoned-down, beset character that Lance seems to be. Emile Hirsch looks like an appealingly crazy screen presence. Gravity places a premium on acting talent by sticking two people in suits where the only emoting they’ll be able to do is in tight shots of their face through the glass of their helmet. With subpar actors, the film could be a sub-The Room-level farce. However, the actors in question are Oscar-winners George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. There are, perhaps, more talented actors in the world, but it would be a tough thing to find two more marketable and recognized movie stars. They will be put on trial in Gravity, but history says that they will be up to the task.
This is a real toss-up. Alfonso Cuarón directed the excellent Y Tu Mamá También and the underrated Children of Men. He also helmed the first high-quality film in the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise. The man knows his way around a sci-fi epic, and knows how to capture a deeply-held friendship. David Gordon Green has directed a similarly wide range of movies, from the understated indie George Washington to the somewhat less-understated Pineapple Express. Still, with relative duds like The Sitter still so fresh in the mind, it’s hard to favor him over Cuarón.
This race is closer than it may appear. While Gravity seems superior on first viewing, there’s definite potential for Prince Avalanche to become the next movie that you play again and again until your significant other threatens to cancel your Netflix subscription. Still, one of these is Oscar-bait.
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.