“I think it’s the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done. . .” ~ James Cameron
It hasn’t been since perhaps Cameron’s own Avatar (does that count as a space film?) that a science fiction movie has had such incredible hype surrounding it. Like Avatar, a big part of what has people talking about Gravity is the incredible visuals. And they are incredible. Before I get into that, though, let’s start at the beginning.
Gravity, directed by auteur Alfonso Cuarón (who was also co writer, producer, and editor), stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts struggling to survive when a disaster leaves them floating stranded in outer space. Dr. Stone (Bullock) is a scientist on her first space mission, installing technology she developed into the Hubble telescope. Among those accompanying her is experienced commander Matt Kowalski (a cocky Clooney). When an unexpected cloud of debris heads their way, the two find themselves stranded in one of the places least hospitable to human life. What follows is an intense race against the clock to somehow survive and make it back home to Earth.
Known for his fascination with long-takes (whether real or simulated), Cuarón and his cinematographer (Award winning frequent collaborated Emmanuel Lubezki) do not disappoint. Beginning with an astoundingly seamless 17 minute long take, the visuals only go up from there. Gravity gives a breathtaking view of what it must look and feel like, floating miles above the Earth’s atmosphere. Yes, the film is primarily CGI, but very rarely is that evident. The exception, for me, are the scenes where the camera pulls back and we see the astronauts’ full bodies, floating at a distance. The foreign concept of zero-g just reinforces the artificiality of what we’re seeing, drawing attention to the fact that we are seeing a computer generated image rather than actual people in a real environment. Other than a few of those moments, however, the realism here is amazing in it’s technical achievement and breathtaking in it’s scope and beauty.
Despite the fact that this is essentially a one woman show – Clooney’s character is more of a supporting role – and the story being described as very character driven and personal, I found the plot and character development to be painfully lacking. Yes, there are a couple of powerful moments, especially as Stone grapples with the seemingly inevitable fate of dying in the lonely vacuum of space. Over all, though, the characters are far too generic to truly care about. Though the obvious comparison to make here is with Apollo 13, I also am reminded of the Tom Hanks vehicle, Cast Away, which manages to make me care more about a volleyball than I did about either of the stars of Gravity.
To get back to the obvious comparison of Apollo 13, Gravity is easily this generation’s version. It is a realistic space disaster with inspiring themes of human perseverance and sacrifice. It also has a lot more adrenaline pumping through its veins. Despite the serenity of the setting, once it gets going, Gravity doesn’t settle down for more than a moment until the credits role. It’s a good thing, too, because if it did, you might start over thinking things and realizing how one dimensional the characters are, and how thin the plot is.
Like the previously mentioned Avatar, this film makes an impact by just how great it looks. By that merit alone, it pushes an otherwise mediocre and forgettable movie into the realm of an event that has to be seen and experienced to believe. Make no mistake, especially when you take into account the fact that the two leads were essentially acting in an empty box much of the time, their performances are impressive, but there’s only so much they can do with little script and little time – Gravity is surprisingly short for the epic science fiction genre.
I know it sounds like I’m hating on this film, but that’s only because in so many ways it’s perfect. The sound editing is phenomenal and subtle, the visual vistas of space are awe inspiring, the special effects are some of the most realistic you have ever seen – it is nearly impossible to tell where practical set pieces stop and digital images begin. The camera work – freed for the most part from terrestrial constraints is dizzying (sometimes literally, but only in the best way). The leads are very good, and I’m willing to put some of my hesitation in calling them fantastic on the fact that I’m just not a big fan of Sandra Bullock.
If only the characters were deeper, the story more engaging, and the plot a bit more believable, this would be an easy contender for best film of the year. As it is, the first two are lacking, and the plot, for all it’s efforts at portraying space realistically, forgets to stay within some sort of bounds of reasonable plausibility, throwing insurmountable odds left and right, tackled by unlikely (or technically impossible) solutions. Nevertheless, this film reminds us of the power of cinema to transport the viewer somewhere they could never be otherwise. It should definitely be on your must see list, on an IMAX screen, in 3D. You will thank me.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“This movie is ridiculous, and not in a good way.”
My Rating – Four out of five hats
Gravity floats into 3,575 theaters, October 4