The dialogue gets a bit schmaltzy and Hallmark-y. There, I’ve just told you the one negative thing I have to say about Gravity. I just had to get it out of the way early, so that I can now show off my thesaurus skills in finding synonyms for words like “amazing”, “beautiful” and “Holy sh!t, how the f@#k are they doing that?”
From a technical perspective alone, this is a film that will be used as a visual textbook in film schools for years to come. Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron and his DP Emmanuel Lubezki (who also lensed his previous career high watermark, Children of Men) do things with the camera in this film that puts the “awe” back in “awesome”. From the film’s stupidly ambitious 15-minute long, single take opening shot, to vertigo inducing camera gymnastics in the weightlessness of space where “up” becomes a relative term, to some of the more masterful displays of using the oft-maligned 3D technology to convey the humbling vastness of space, there are too many spectacular moments to list.
This is movie magic where that magic part of the equation is in full force, and just like the greatest prestidigitators of our day, Cuaron and co will leave your mouth agape and your brain all scrunched up as you try to figure out their tricks. And there are a lot of them. Virtually every scene is filled with such an insane attention to detail, all brought to life by the most surreally realistic CG visuals seen on screen perhaps ever, that your eyes can’t help darting around this spectacle in front of you, trying to spot all the smoke and mirrors.
Well, your eyes would move, if it wasn’t for the fact that they, like the rest of your body, will probably be trapped in the rigor mortis of some of the most nerve-jarring suspense my sphincter has had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing in ages.
Cuaron takes the simple story of doctor turned rookie astronaut Ryan “My dad wanted a boy” Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran spacewalker Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) being stranded up in space when the satellite they had been working on gets struck by an orbiting barrage of space debris (Pesky Russians, blowing up their satellites!), and turns it into a white knuckled rollercoaster, that will leave you more breathless than the astronauts themselves fighting their rapidly dwindling oxygen supply.
There is an argument on whether or not Gravity should be classified as science fiction. There is certainly no little green men or dilithium crystals to be seen here, as this film is rooted firmly in reality, but it is speculative fiction about science. I say both camps are wrong: Gravity is actually a horror, but the good kind that doesn’t equate looping tendrils of gore with scares. The kind that has your heart beating like a hummingbird playing a drumline tattoo at the threat of ever present, very lethal danger; where your buttocks clench tight enough to crack a walnut when you witness something whiz by behind the oblivious characters on screen. This is a visceral sense of dread that rides you ragged for 90 minutes, and you will love it.
Helping to shorten your lifespan is the film’s stupendous score and sound design. I’m actually of a mind to draft a memo (people still do that, right?) to all cinema houses, requesting that snacks no longer be sold for screenings of Gravity. See, in space there is no atmosphere to convey sound, so often times in the movie you’re presented with nothing more than the frenzied breaths and desperate words coming from Stone and Kowalski’s spacesuit mics, all nearly swallowed up by the silent horror of things going disastrously wrong on screen. This taps into that sense of escalating terror found in nightmares where you try to scream but no sound escapes, and it needs to be witnessed without the distracting crunch, crackle and slurp of cinema confectionaries.
Clooney is solid as always as the storytelling Kowalski, but it’s Bullock who does the lion’s share of the film’s dramatic work, and she capably shoulders the burden of turning essentially a one-note story into not only a thrilling tale, but providing a complete arc to her character that puts some recent, bloated films to shame in it’s brevity. She elevates the already impressive script provided to her by Alfonso and his brother Jonas Cuaron, and I will be very surprised to not see her name being pulled out of some envelopes by a couple of drunk celebs come awards season.
In fact, I’m pretty confident that the title of Gravity will be showing up in a staggering amount of categories, and it fully deserves it. This is not only the finest work of a master of his craft, but a game changer overall. This is bold and iconic filmmaking, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in ages, and which is sure to influence so much more.
And it deserves to be appreciated on the biggest, best screen you can possibly throw your money at. Just leave the popcorn at the door.
Last Updated: October 9, 2013