Help me track down a fictional landing site?
December 18, 2013 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about the film, Gravity, and the geography of its ending. Obviously there are major spoilers if you click through.

Given the (kind of scant) evidence in the film, where did Dr. Ryan Stone land at the end of Gravity? I realize that there probably isn't any real place in the world that perfectly matches up, but reasonably plausible locations would be fantastically helpful.

I put together a little collection of screenshots of the coastline and the landing site here.

Some things that I know or have noticed:

- While we're underwater, we see both a frog and what looks like kelp.

- The scene was shot at Lake Powell in Arizona. However, it's been altered to look much more lush and green than it is in real life, and I doubt there's a whole lot of kelp growing there.

- The shore has reddish sand instead of mud.

- It's remote enough that no one else is at the shore in the middle of a beautiful day, and there are no boats on the water.

- When the capsule first lands, it seems to be picking up radio transmissions both in Spanish and English, including a weather report for somewhere in the midwest.

- The landing site is located somewhere that would allow NASA to quickly organize a rescue, even without satellite-based communication and GPS. (For the purposes of this exercise, I'm going with the film's assertion the debris cloud was large enough to take out basically everything in orbit, even as far up as the TDRSS.)

Metafilter, I've been googling and cruising around satellite maps and flicker for hours and I'm at a total loss. Please help me solve this mystery!
posted by Narrative Priorities to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I reckon N. Korea/China.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:16 PM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: Probably not helpful, but since Dr. Stone's de-orbit was in a Shenzhou vehicle attached to the Tiangong space station, only the first of which is aloft right now (and considerably simpler in structure than the one depicted) at an orbital inclination of 42.78 degrees, which means it never gets further north than 42.78 N Latitude, or further south than 42.78 S Latitude. (Yes, that probably includes about 75% or so of the Earth's landmass.) The California/Oregon Border is at 42N, so the entirety of the US Southwest is fair game.

As long as we're overthinking this story: I wondered why Tiangong was de-orbiting in that movie, and the only answer that made sense was that they did it on purpose rather than add its mass of debris to the ablation cascade that was going on up there. Would they deliberately deorbit their pride and joy over the American Southwest? I can think of a few reasons why they wouldn't, but since the excrement hit the oscillator over just a few hours before, and it takes time to get something that big to de-orbit with puny space station engines, they didn't have a choice.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:22 PM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

When I saw the movie, I felt like she was landing somewhere that was certainly not on US soil - and I noted that it was intentionally left vague.

The director says what matters about the last scene is the re-birth metaphor: "She's in these murky waters almost like an amniotic fluid or a primordial soup. In which you see amphibians swimming. She crawls out of the water, not unlike early creatures in evolution. And then she goes on all fours. And after going on all fours she's a bit curved until she is completely erect. It was the evolution of life in one, quick shot."

So, maybe she landed in the cradle of civilization. The Red Sea?
posted by hush at 7:02 PM on December 18, 2013

Sunburnt, I thought the Tiangong had been struck by debris?
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:06 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I thought it looked like (a fantasy version of) Southern China or Laos/Vietnam.
posted by lunasol at 7:09 PM on December 18, 2013

I thought the Tiangong had been struck by debris?

Probably, but anything that hit hard enough to alter its orbit would be big enough to blast it to pieces. But I guess we have to accept the movie's handwaving on this, as we do on so many other bits. There's a lot of orbital stuff that doesn't make sense.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:30 PM on December 18, 2013

i wondered about this too, thank you for the question. since manned space activity tends to happen in equatorial orbit,, she must be within a certain distance from the equator which would depend on orbital perturbations and moving further north or south upon descent.

that said, i have a theory. she landed in the past somewhere, which would be an ideal setup for a sequel. she looks around her new area, runs into george clooney, who explains to her that their only chance of getting back to the present is to make their way over a prehistoric earth to a place that corresponds to an important modern location (the LHC?) where something is happening to, uh, open a time portal! depending on what prehistoric era is chosen, she could encounter cgi dinosaurs, or maybe there could be a triangle interaction with a handsome cro-magnon, but not both.
posted by bruce at 7:33 PM on December 18, 2013

All signs point to it intentionally being left vague. Even the script only says "EXT. LAKE" for the location, so they might not have even calculated where exactly she would've landed, just that they wanted it not to be completely barren so we know she can survive there and find help.
posted by bluecore at 7:47 PM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, in case it's helpful: the reason I'm asking is because I need to write a piece of fiction that begins immediately after the end of the film. I could leave the location vague, but that causes a lot of other problems. So I'll just go with whatever the best guess ends up being and hope the intended audience doesn't mind. :/
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:54 PM on December 18, 2013

Sunburnt - I don't think you can make any assumptions based on the real world, what with the movie putting Hubble, the ISS, and the Tiangong all in basically identical orbits.
posted by russm at 8:26 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So this was for a Yuletide story, and it's now posted here, if anyone was curious!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:20 AM on January 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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