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Article updated: 10/3/2013 5:36 AM

'Gravity' hero once lived in Lake Zurich

By Burt Constable

*The Lake Zurich mentioned in the headline may not necessarily be the Lake Zurich you know. And you have to read almost all of this column before you even get an explanation.


There is a moment in the space movie "Gravity," opening tonight at many suburban theaters, where George Clooney's astronaut character asks a question of the Dr. Ryan Stone character played by Sandra Bullock.

"Where's home, Dr. Stone?" Clooney's character says.

"Lake Zurich, Illinois," Bullock's character says.

"Is there somebody down there looking up, thinking about you?" Clooney's character asks.

The real-life answer to that reel-life question is a resounding "Yes." Lots of people in Lake Zurich are thinking about how quirky, cool and confusing it is to have Bullock's character mention their suburb in a critically acclaimed blockbuster that will be seen by millions of people.

"It's kind of random because Lake Zurich is not a very well-known town," said Madison Chudik, 22, who works as a waitress at the Koffee Kup, the suburb's iconic diner owned by her parents, Bob and Sheila Chudik. Customers can't think of a logical reason for Bullock's character to mention Lake Zurich.

"People have been saying, 'What? Did they spin the globe and just point to something?'" said Chudik, who added that she goes to lots of movies and planned to see "Gravity" even if one of the film's fictional characters didn't hail from Lake Zurich.

Awash in a sea of local media coverage because of that brief clip, Lake Zurich Village President Tom Poynton said he discovered his suburb's mention weeks ago when his movie-buff son sent him a link to the movie trailer showing Bullock's character claiming Lake Zurich as her home.

"That trailer went viral in Lake Zurich," said Poynton, who figured he got 150 emails asking him why Lake Zurich was chosen. "We had no clue where that came from. We tried to find out with Facebook and Twitter."

Reporters told him Lake Zurich was used in the film because Bullock's character specializes in medical engineering and X-rays.

"Somehow, when they were doing research, they found out Lake Zurich is a center for that," said a dubious Poynton. "I don't know about that. Maybe there's something in our industrial park I don't know about."

Internet research isn't always reliable. My online research on the plot of "Gravity" suggests that Bullock ends up behind the wheel of the International Space Station shuttle and has to keep it going at least 50 mph or Dennis Hopper will blow it up unless Clooney and his pals can abandon their casino heist in time to prevent the explosion.

For a much better take on the film, check out Daily Herald Film Citic Dann Gire's review. The film features no flashbacks of character Dr. Ryan Stone's life in Lake Zurich or any mention of the suburb beyond that one line, but that might be enough.

"Obviously, pioneering women of strength, character, persistence, high quality and intelligence come out of Lake Zurich," Gire says. "Lake Zurich is the spawning ground for the next generation of women in space."

Trying to capitalize on the publicity, Poynton used social media to invite Bullock and Clooney to the Sept. 14 "Rock the Block" festival celebrating downtown Lake Zurich. Neither star responded.

"You never know what's going to come of it," said Dale Perrin, executive director of the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce. He said it is better to be mentioned in a movie than to not be mentioned in a movie, and imagined a scenario where the name drop intrigues a curious movie fan.

"Maybe there will be somebody in Seattle, Washington, who says, 'Hmm. Lake Zurich. I'll check it out,'" said Perrin, who, like Clooney, is 52 and single. "I just want to get Sandra Bullock here."

For now, the only Bullock appearance in town will be on two screens (one in 3-D) starting at 10 tonight at the Regal Lake Zurich 12 theaters. That theater and Regal's IMAX theater in Lincolnshire have sold more advance tickets for "Gravity" than they do for most shows. "We are certain the local interest is a reason for the increase," said Russ Nunley, vice president of marketing and communication for Regal Entertainment Group.

As for that cheap headline tease, international stories about the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland say the movie mention of Lake Zurich drew a laugh from the crowd because Bullock was staying just around the corner at a home on the Lake Zurich that has a view of the Alps instead of a view of a suburban water tower.

Our Lake Zurich probably will enjoy the "15 minutes of fame" phenomenon that fades as soon as "Gravity" leaves the theaters. But there probably is another story the media can milk. Somewhere out there is a 13-year-old boy named Ryan Stone who isn't thrilled to share a name with a movie character played by Sandra Bullock.

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