Movie Review: Gravity

Every five years or so, that special ‘event movie’ comes along to completely absorb its audience with vastly immersive spectacles across time and space. James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009) was the last film to capture the audience’s imagination in such a way. With state-of-the-art motion capture technology and 3D effects to create a beautifully believable world it’s hard not to be captivated. Director Alfonso Cuarón (“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Children of Men”) now brings to us the latest ‘event movie’ with “Gravity,” a massive thrill ride that uses revolutionary effects to create a tense, yet awe-inspiring world that demands to be seen on the largest screen you can find.

U.S. scientist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bulloch) is on her shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), but things go horribly wrong when a Russian missile strike causes debris to orbit Earth at a dangerously fast pace.  With their own shuttle destroyed, Stone and Kowalski must escape the silent death trap of outer space by finding a way to return to Earth. But after past hardships, including the death of her 4-year-old daughter, Stone wonders whether life is even worth fighting for.

“Gravity” truly defines itself by its astonishing visuals, which begins with the very first shot.  The film begins in total silence with a shot of Earth before seeing a small dot, which grows into a ship, then the camera zooms in on each character and aspect of the ship, tilting and twisting as it goes without a single cut for the first 12 minutes. It’s cinematography and effects like this that make the movie more engaging and immersive than any amount of cheap 3D ever could. Cuarón goes out of his way to make sure audiences feel like they are right there in space with the other characters, using beautiful scenery and innovative camera tricks that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud. Every shot is carefully planned and holds up well when making transitions from one subject to another when very few cuts are provided.

The acting is fairly good across the mere cast of two, although this is where some of the film’s few flaws come to light. It must first be said that Sandra Bulloch does a phenomenal job as a desperate survivor who struggles to decide whether or not she should survive. As a haunted soul enduring every hardship life throws at her, she finally starts folding against all of the pressure. I’m sure this will be an Oscar-nominated performance. George Clooney, on the other hand, plays George Clooney.  There’s nothing particularly distinguishing about his role, as he simply plays the typical straight-talker who has all the answers.  But as the actions of the movie play out, he proves to still be a very likable presence that makes things feel a little empty whenever the character is absent.

Also, it must be said that the story itself is fairly simple and straightforward: survive space and get back to Earth.  There really is no big twist at the end or some newly developed plot point late in the movie, it’s all about returning to Earth and finding the will to live.  It’s a refreshingly simple premise when major Hollywood productions tend to get more and more convoluted every year. Its effectiveness is, in many ways, found in its sheer simplicity, which gives the movie plenty of time to develop the world and characters in a natural way with no audience-pleasing “other danger” or deus ex machima to interrupt the flow.

I do not normally address this aspect of filmmaking, but I have to give a nod to the sound design. As most know, there is no sound in space, but most space movies tend to ignore that detail (“Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Aliens,” etc.).  “Gravity” changes that aesthetic by almost completely muting the catastrophic events that the characters encounter, with most explosions and shattering metal going completely unheard. For marketing purposes, sound effects were added to the footage in trailers and TV spots, but viewers will be surprised to not hear a single “pop” in space once witness some on-screen detonation. The effect is absolutely chilling and adds to the sense of isolation that the characters experience. It was a risky move, but Cuarón did well in taking it.

Take the terrifying silence of space from 2001: “A Space Odyssey” (1968), the impossibly desperate fight for survival while surrounded by death in “The Grey” (2011), add a director who really knows how to innovate in story and effects, and you have “Gravity,” – one of 2013’s best films.

I give Gravity 5 Stars out of 5

About Brady Gorman

Comments

  1. Rob Peaslee says:

    An insightful review, Brady. Thanks for posting!

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