I’d been looking forward to Gravity since the first teaser trailers appeared last year, teasers that became more frequent as the launch date for Alfonso Cuarón’s space opera drew ever nearer. Usually, when I see a film giving such advanced notice my skeptical nature expects the worst. If a film is good it will speak for itself, no hyping necessary. Today however, after seeing Gravity in 3D I’m made to wonder if that campaign begun so many months ago was hype or a warning to all other films this fall, saying: “Don’t Bother – We’ve already got you beat!” From its breathtaking opening shot to the final, awe-inspiring frame, Gravity is that truly great film of 2013 for which many of us have been waiting.
The story itself could not be simpler: stranded astronauts must survive and find a way to safely return to Earth. Resources are scarce for Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Kowalski (George Clooney), who find themselves adrift 600 km above the Earth after a catastrophic cascade of debris pulverizes their shuttle and cuts off all communications with mission control. The two embark on a desperate journey through a vacuous non-environment to the International Space Station where they hope to use a Russian space craft as their life boat down to terra firma. Sounds simple enough, but the themes of isolation and re-birth after tragedy are explored and superbly integrated into Stone and Kowalski’s characters.
Sandra Bullock deserves high praise for her performance as mission specialist Dr. Ryan (her father wanted a boy) Stone. Dedicating herself to a six month fitness regimen, spending countless hours reviewing the script with Cuarón while blocking this picture’s sometimes intricate action; Bullock proves she’s not just a movie star, she is an actress. One scene that stays with me has no eye-popping visuals or intensely implied danger; it is simply Bullock, as Stone, communicating with someone on Earth who cannot speak English. A cinematically sedate scene, it is nevertheless emotionally charged. This unknown inhabitant of planet Earth plays with his dog and sings his daughter to sleep while Dr. Stone listens and we feel her loneliness, her torment, hopelessness. A well-written scene beautifully performed by the talented Miss Bullock. I can’t help but wonder whether she can look forward to a second Academy Award for this performance as the resilient Dr. Stone.
Visually, Alfonso Cuarón – whose films include 2006’s Children of Men and Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) – has crafted one of the most striking visions I’ve seen since the passing of Stanley Kubrick. Utilizing top drawer CGI and green screen compositing, Cuarón takes us on a ride that goes well beyond convincing; it comes precariously close to inducing vertigo! The opening scene, for example, is roughly 15 minutes of drifting into close-ups and out to long shots while orbiting high above Earth. If these uncompromised, gracefully dynamic visual stylings have a drawback, it is one shared with films like The Blair witch Project: the non-stop motion becomes almost nauseating at times. That said though, there is absolutely no other downside to the experience of Gravity, it is truly a cinematic masterpiece whose imagery aspires to, and handily achieves, epic proportions.
Gravity’s innovative sound design must be celebrated hand-in-hand with its’ outstanding visual achievements. There is no sound in space because there is no air to carry the sonic waves. Yet rather than have a film that lapsed between dead silence and tinny radio transmissions - with their cliché *beep*s – Cuarón challenged accepted norms. He recognized that while sound may not travel in space, it would certainly travel within the confines of spacesuits. The result is a new aural concept: motors and impacts, large and small, can now be heard in space, but they sound like motors and impacts underwater, muted by a medium not altogether friendly to the conveyance of sound. Brilliant. I can’t decide whether Cuarón deserves an Oscar or a Nobel Prize for this film.
At the time of this writing Gravity has conquered its’ third straight weekend ruling the box office. Small wonder. Sure, there are some liberties taken with the distances between orbiting objects and platforms, but let’s just call that poetic license. Cuarón’s 90 minute epic is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that has reset the standards of space-borne drama. The man’s vision is an intimate tale played against the grand canvas of space. Gravity is a big screen must-see, because no television DVD, Blu-Ray or VOD viewing will ever do this spectacle justice. If fact, I may see it again myself, and I haven’t doubled-up on a film since I was a teenager. My compliments, Senor Cuarón, bravo!