GRAVITY (Dir. Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are our astronaut audience surrogates in Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY, the first great movie of the fall season.
After so many overblown sci-fi epics, it’s so refreshing to find a film set in the heavens, on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to be exact, that doesn’t need attacking aliens or big ass asteroids to be scary - the prospect of being stranded, untethered in outer space is terrifying all by itself.
Bullock and Clooney find themselves in this predicament after debris from a destructed Russian satellite hits their space shuttle during their space walk on a Hubble Telescope repair mission. All other crew members were killed, and contact with Houston, represented by the voice of Ed Harris as Mission Control (nice shout-out to Harris’s roles in THE RIGHT STUFF and APOLLO 13) is lost, so there’s just the two Oscar winning A-listers lost in space.
Clooney, cocky and confident as usual, retrieves Bullock after she spins out of control away from the devastation of the accident, and, with the help of thruster packs, they make their way back to the shuttle. Finding that the shuttle’s been totaled and therefore not their ride back home, they then head towards the International Space Station.
Along the way we get a bit of insight into the characters, though less about why Clooney is driven to break the world record for longest spacewalk, and more about why Bullock prefers the quiet of space to life on Earth, i.e. she’s mourning the death of her four year old daughter.
When it comes to 3D, GRAVITY joins Martin Scorsese’s HUGO and Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI in the small club of films that make spectacular use of the format. Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who also shot Cuarón’s Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN and CHILDREN OF MEN) glide through the spectacularly imagery with an electric energy that will make you feel as weightless as its leads. It's definitely worth the price of admission for the IMAX 3D Experience.
Clooney is his regular charming self, but Bullock acts her ass off. It’s such an impressive and emotionally invested performance that I wouldn’t be surprised if it garnered her another Oscar nomination.
From the point-of-view visor shots from inside of Bullock’s helmet, to the expansive CGI-ed shiny space station surroundings, there’s a lot of immersive imagery in GRAVITY, a lot of technical beauty, but the film’s most amazing feat is how satisfyingly stressful it is.
One fake-out fever dream scene aside that I won’t spoil, the film is heavily grounded in reality with only existing technology available which adds greatly to the film’s frightening grip.
Although it begins with text telling us how unlivable outer space is, recalling Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci fi classic ALIEN’s tagline: “In space nobody can hear you scream,” GRAVITY is not sci-fi. It’s a thriller in which the cold darkness of the great beyond is more terrifying than any made up monster.
Seeing it will make you feel as if you’re really starring into the void, and when it’s over you’ll be happy to be safe back on Earth. That’s just a few of this bold, amazing, and breath taking movie’s many sensations.