Sunday, October 6, 2013

Decisive Action: ‘Gravity’ & ‘Captain Phillips’

by Bill Doughty

Two movies this month offer thrill rides and edge-of-the-seat action: “Gravity” and “Captain Phillips.” Directors Alfonso Cuarón and Paul Greengrass and actors Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, respectively, will be up for top awards by the end of the year.  Supporting performances by George Clooney and Barkhad Abdi will likely be up for awards, too.

“Gravity” takes special effects to a new level, but the story and life-and-death performance by Bullock are grounded in humanity.  The whole world is an audience to the drama.  Some themes: cooperation in space, importance of STEM, faith in oneself, innovation, training, courage, rebirth from grief, and appreciation for the gift of life.  

The film brings out the stark challenges and deep desire to explore space and understand the universe.

Tom Hanks congratulates James Lovell on being
awarded the Lincoln Leadership Prize in 2010.
Coincidentally, this past week the U.S. Naval Institute held its 2013 annual history conference, “Past, Present, and Future of Human Space Flight,” with Capt. James A. Lovell, USN (Ret.), Capt. Robert L. Crippen, USN (Ret.), Col. Robert Cabana, USMC (Ret.) and Capt. Ken Ham, USN.  (Lovell, captain of the famed Apollo 13 mission, was portrayed by Tom Hanks in a movie about that mission.)

Ham, chair of the Aerospace Engineering Department at the Naval Academy, said he and astronauts and other aviators were influenced by the movie, “Top Gun.”  Ham commented, “When I look up into the sky at the moon, it’s epic. When I look at Mars, it’s epic. It seems to me to be completely obvious that we need to go there, and I think if we decide to do it, the American people will support it.”

There are similarities in the appeal of space and call of the sea.

“Captain Phillips,” based on the book “A Captain’s Duty” by Phillips with Stephan Talty, shows how uncompromising resolve, creative negotiation and decisive action can work against hostage-taking extortion and intimidation.  The U.S. Navy stands for freedom of commerce on the seas, and “Captain Phillips,” shows -- through blood, sweat and tears -- how that freedom is protected.  Once again, Navy SEALs are on the forefront but so are surface forces, naval aviation and hospital corpsmen.  The movie closely follows action described in the book, with an eye on accuracy.  Greengrass says he wanted the movie to seem like a documentary, and it does.

[ Coincidentally, today Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced targeted operations by U.S. servicemembers against terrorists in Africa.  “These operations in Libya and Somalia send a strong message to the world that the United States will spare no effort to hold terrorists accountable, no matter where they hide or how long they evade justice. We will continue to maintain relentless pressure on terrorist groups that threaten our people or our interests, and we will conduct direct action against them, if necessary, that is consistent with our laws and our values.” ]

Barkhad Abdi as "Muse."
Building cooperative partnerships, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and enforcing international fishing laws with the U.S. Coast Guard are missions of the Navy as reflected in the Maritime Strategy and as touched on in “Captain Phillips.”  The Maersk Alabama ship was carrying relief supplies to Africa.  The pirates from Somalia claimed they were fishermen driven to piracy because of overfishing.  Their attack, however, was based on a flawed strategy from a position of weakness.

How can we preserve quality of life on the planet and protect natural resources?  How can we resolve conflict and uphold constitutional democracy?  How can we overcome fear and find the will to survive under the worst circumstances?  These are some of the questions prompted by these two movies.  On a practical level, “How did they film that?” is another question that comes to mind, especially during “Gravity.”  Amazing.

No comments: