News, Views, and Reviews
Getting shipwrecked and set adrift at sea is something that few of us will ever have to experience. As harrowing as that could possibly be, imagine that instead of being adrift at sea, you are set adrift in space. That is the premise behind “Gravity” directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. There is no good versus evil or “man versus man” in this story, and there are no floods, thunderstorms, or natural disasters or “man versus nature” either. This is a story about a routine space shuttle mission that gets wrecked by passing satellite debris and it’s occupants try to survive being hurled through space. If a shipwreck-survival story is an example of “man versus nature” than a spacewreck-survival story must be “man versus man-made nature”.
If there is anything I’d like to impress on readers of this review is that the previews and commercials you’ve seen for this movie do not do it justice. I remember seeing the trailer months ago and thinking “hmm, that looks interesting, but what could they do in a movie about drifting through space?” If you had similar reservations about “Gravity” forget them. This is an amazing movie experience. This is why there are movie theaters, and if you’re really lucky, this is why there is an IMAX-3D movie theater near you. Stop what you are doing, go buy a ticket, and watch this movie!
Story: Veteran space-walker-astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) assists space-noob-scientist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) in some Hubble Space Telescope repairs. Meanwhile, miles away, Russia destroys one of her satellites. Unfortunately, this sets off a chain-reaction of colliding satellites and that debris is set on a collision course with the Hubble repair mission. With no air or friction in space to slow them down, these chunks of space debris rip the shuttle and the Hubble Telescope apart like cannon fire, and the astronauts are scattered. Fortunately, Matt is very capable of using his jetpack thrusters to maneuver through space, and he attempts to rescue the other astronauts. What follows is an edge of your seat, non-stop thrill ride of survival, tragedy, and triumph.
If that doesn’t sound exciting enough, Matt reminds us that the debris cloud is never going to slow down. That means that every 90 minutes, it circles the Earth and collides with the survivors again. And again. These poor spacewreck survivors will be pushed beyond their limits to survive. Sure, it’s thrilling, it’s exciting, but it’s also a beautiful story. The fantastic imagery wrecked my eyeballs in more ways than one.
Characterization: “Gravity” stars a small cast with very little explanation or back story for each character. In some ways, they are simple and fairly two dimensional: Ryan is cynical and bitter from some personal tragedy and Matt is cheerful and appreciative of the beauty around him, even during this dire situation. But through the presentation of the movie, including the amazing camera work itself, WE embody these characters. They don’t need complicated personalities, because WE are their personalities. We are able to project ourselves into them, sometimes literally seeing things from their point of view. In this respect, their simple nature works to their advantage, both in telling a better story and helping the audience identify with them.
With that said, Sandra Bullock delivers an amazing performance. She portrays a wide range of emotions, often with nobody to talk to but herself, or with no dialogue at all. That is the very definition of “good acting”. The story and the visuals were breath taking and impressive, but Sandra carried the movie (and got me sobbing like a baby). I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just exclaim that I hope she wins some awards for this!
Visualization: Speaking of awards, Emmanuel Lubezki deserves any award we can think of for photography. This is the most amazing film I think I have ever seen. I’m still trying to work out in my head how they handled certain shots or were able to do these incredible long-takes with no break or cuts from camera to camera. It will be a shame if “Gravity” isn’t recognized at the box office, but it is getting some recognition from critics. In my “Elysium” review, I praised one sequence especially as a great example of visual story telling with little to no dialogue. Well, “Gravity” is like that, but all the time. The entire movie. It’s so incredible to watch. The visuals are like another character in the movie, changing moods as expertly as Bullock’s character, shifting from breathtaking views of Earth to harrowing, nail-biting sequences, and back. Visual metaphors and themes are sometimes laid on extra thick, but I like it like that.
It’s important to note that “Gravity” is as scientifically accurate as possible, which means there is no sound in space. That makes the amazing visuals all the more spectacular as they can convey so much tension and danger without sound. One particular sequence of Ryan trying to get inside a space station hatch as the rest of the station is ripped apart by debris – and no sound effects – just blew my mind.
3D: Like “Pacific Rim” I will feel sorry for those that miss the opportunity to see it in a big theater. I wish I had an opportunity to see it in IMAX with DBOX seats. The depth and scale are as important in “Gravity” as in “Pacific Rim” though with completely different results. “Pacific Rim” is about giant monsters and robots fighting and is totally over the top, but it totally justifies the IMAX-3D format, but so does “Gravity” in it’s own way. I just have to ask Hollywood: “more like this, please?!”
Sound: Breathtaking visuals and amazing performances in the soundless void of space leave the sound department one chance to shine: the soundtrack. Thankfully, the music by Steven Price inhabits this movie like another great performer. The music can carry a dialogue-free scene, evoke tremendous emotional responses, or support an already gripping performance from an actor. Like some of the visuals, it can be a little heavy, but in this setting, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I should point out that there are some sound effects, but they are only used when appropriate. The importance of Sandra Bullock’s breathing can’t be overlooked, and capturing it as an effective “sound effect” is just as important as her performance. Overall, I appreciate the subtle and grand differences in the soundtrack; the different moods and expressiveness of the sound is fantastic.
Conclusion: I was moved to tears during the movie. I came out of the theater knowing I had witnessed something truly groundbreaking in cinema history. Hours later, I’m still awestruck at how great “Gravity” is on every level. I’ve written some praise-filled reviews this year: from the super-hero adventure of “Iron Man 3” to the thought provoking sci-fi wonder of “Elysium”; from the spectacular re-imagining of “Star Trek Into Darkness” to the incredible visual scale of “Pacific Rim”; I enjoyed them all. “Gravity” came out of nowhere and blew me away. I don’t know if it will stay in my echelon of favorite movies of all time, but it’s definitely taking its place as my favorite movie experience of the year. (Which is pretty remarkable considering how much fun I had watching “Pacific Rim” in IMAX-3D-DBOX!) Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go watch it!
Gravity fell into theaters October 4th, runs 90 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.