It’s almost like someone knew that info would emerge yesterday that Angelina Jolie had declined (again) to star in Alfonso Cuarón‘s Gravity, putting the project in jeopardy. Because in a script review written just prior to that revelation, the idea of Scarlett Johansson or Blake Lively playing the central role is discussed, and roundly dismissed. “There’s no way Johansson and Lively are going to be in this movie…Everything depends on the actress playing the part of Ryan…[and] neither has anything approaching what is needed to play this part. Not in a million years.”

Take that as you will, but it is an interesting underline to the idea that Warner Bros. is reluctant to make the film without a high-caliber actress in the lead. While we wait to hear what will happen next at WB, the script review gives us a clearer picture than ever of why the movie might be a huge challenge to make, but also suggests that, if that challenge is met, if could be a very unique project.

First off, the ScriptShadow review is based on a November 2009 draft of Gravity, and we know that changes have been made in the ten months since. And, in case it doesn’t go without saying, this info is spoilerish.

There are two big points to take away from the review. The first is that Ryan, the character Jolie would have played, is not just the central role, but the only person on screen for a great deal of the movie. And ScriptShadow’s opinion is that the part is underwritten in this draft. “We don’t know this woman. AT ALL. .I’d venture to say that this is the least I’ve known about any main character in any script I’ve read this year. It’s that thin.”

Knowing that a lot of work has been done to the script in the past year, especially as it has been pushed towards Jolie, I’d expect that things are different now.

The other big point is potentially huge: while not made explicit in the film, the review makes the guess that Gravity might be designed to take place in real time, with no cuts at all. We’ve known that plans exist to have the opening shot be twenty minutes long, but if this guess is correct, then Gravity would be far more ambitious than we’d expected.

So, the plot. The script follows Ryan Stone, an engineer whose career path unexpectedly puts her on a space shuttle, doing repairs. (In a more recent draft, she’s working on repairing the Hubble.) She’s paired with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski. But things go very wrong. As ScriptShadow says,

the next most abundant thing in space besides panels are satellites, and the stupid Russians just blew up one of theirs. The aftermath creates a chain reaction of spraying debris that hits multiple satellites, which also end up exploding, and all of a sudden thousands of pieces of debris are heading straight towards the space shuttle.

Cutting forward a bit, that debris destroys the shuttle and eventually leaves Ryan alone, trying to make her way to the International Space Station and rescue.

Everything that can go wrong does go wrong as the movie becomes a series of near death experiences. Ryan must jump from point to point – whether it be to a vessel, a station, or an oxygen tank – and survive long enough to make the journey to the next point after that (and so on). Each destination is accompanied by dangerous debris, dropping oxygen, and the strong chance that whatever she’s trying to get to might not be there. Think Apollo 13, but with the odds stacked 1 million times higher against you, if that’s possible.

And, in this draft, that’s basically the movie. The other criticism at this point, which goes along with the thin characterization of Ryan, is that the action is repetitive and unleavened by any humor. But if the technological ambition that is rumored for the film turns out to be true, this could still be a showstopper. And remember, again, that this draft is nearly a year old and considerable work has been done to the script since then. So don’t take many of these details as gospel, but rather as indicators of where the film could be going.

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