October 13, 2013


Alfonso Cuaron, 2013

Novice astronaut & medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalksi (George Clooney) must work together to survive after their space mission is abruptly interrupted by a debris storm.

This limited-storytelling picture opens in the infinite landscape of space as astronauts are performing maintenance duties on the station. Rather than being a space-film existing in the comforts of being in a air-locked ship, much of the time is actually spent outside. An almost complete absence of sound creates a very disconcerting feeling. The early sound you hear are some oldies echoing through Matt's headset as he communicates with Houston. Some segments become a white-knuckle fight, trying to grab onto anything secured. The problem is, everything attached seems frighteningly detachable, and from a distance there's no clear indication. Seeing earth from above the atmosphere can go from being a beautiful time-stopping thing to a very isolating feeling. You're stuck in an outside world where the world below is completely unaware of any dilemma that may arise. We all likely believe that the space stations we build are rock solid (probably because they cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build), and can withstand anything. Gravity certainly proves this wrong. And in zero gravity, small objects can cause large problems. And with a communication breakdown, that only becomes more isolating. Audio hisses, and teardrops float. Clooney and Bullock have a complimentary dynamic. Matt Kowalski's carefree demeanor is basically the opposite of Ryan Stone's distressed character. You sort of have to have a character like Kowalski's present, otherwise things would just become so stiff your heart rate would never slow down watching. Both are fine for the roles, with Bullock bringing more to the table. Clooney doesn't really break out of his typical mold. But Bullock has evolved quite a bit from similarly toned Annie Porter in Speed.

You lose yourself in the film. Any thoughts of a green screen dissipate. The camera shifts seamlessly, from long shots of Stone and Kowalski's spacesuits floating to crafty in-helmet shots with a subtle display of illuminated gauge lights. Everything that Cuaron seems to be going for in the film is executed well. It's probably not a film for everyone. The same people who would be bored with similar limited storytelling space film Moon may also be looking at their watches here, and too bad for them. The many 3D cynics will probably be surprised by Gravity. It's done well, arguably the best use of the technology since Cuaron's best friend Cameron's Avatar. Like Avatar, the film is quite immersive and it's probably the bigger-the-better in terms of where you see it (IMAX must be a treat). The eye-candy is certainly built for the big screen, and not for an iPad.

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