Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
Watched: October 14, 2013
Summary: Best movie of the year (so far)
I know there is a lot of great buzz about Gravity, but I have to chime in and agree. This is just a wonderful film. It’s not deepest hour and a half of cinema to ever hit the silver screen, but as a Science Fiction film, spectacle, thriller, and all around emotional experience — it’s first rate.
Let me also say that I’ve been an Alfonso Cuarón fan for some time. I loved his version of Great Expectations. Y Tu Mamá También is extremely touching. And Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (a bit of a deviation for him) is the most personal and thoughtful of that octolagy. Cuarón knows how to combine intimacy with visual panache and Gravity is not only directed by him, but co-written, and produced by him as well.
The premise here is simple. Something goes wrong in space. Sandra Bullock tries to survive. The nothingness between worlds is both beautiful and scary. This is the most hostile environment mankind has ventured to. Maybe being pressurized on a really deep dive is about as bad, but at least there, up is up and down is down.
This is a gorgeous film. Everyone says so, and they’re right. The 3D is subtle and intense. The panning and spinning shots are dizzying on purpose. I didn’t even see it in Imax (just on a normal big Real 3D setup). In Imax it must be really intense. The visuals are generally seamless. The shots have a nice artistry to them, as one expects from Cuarón.
It’s also, for all its big scope, a very intimate and personal film. Bullock carries it, and carry it she must as she’s in every scene and there is only one other actor (George Clooney) — and he’s gone after the 25% mark. This is her film, and that same plucky charisma she displayed in Demolition Man, Speed, and whenever she picked a decent script over the 20 years since is there in force. I’m not sure I totally believe her as a loner doctor, but she had me at “hello.” You feel for her, for her character, and for the awesome magnificence of the circumstances in which she finds herself. There is just enough backstory to sell the emotional depth. When she manages to get inside the International Space Station (after nearly being punctured, battered, and suffocated), she curls into a little zero G ball. It works.
The music is also very good, adding to the grandeur and scope . Just as effective is the consistent and utter lack of any sound that wouldn’t be conveyed through vacuum. The shuttle and space station are destroyed silently. Hatches bang open without a sound. Jets release gas soundlessly. Like that moment in Saving Private Ryan where the artillery blast knocks out Tom Hank’s ears, the effect is even more dramatic that the usual cacophony.
Gravity‘s pacing is relentless. As each hopeful goal is neared, some new catastrophe intervenes, keeping possible salvation just out of reach. This is accomplished with a deft mix of understandable mistakes and by the sheer array of force deployed against our heroine. But for all that, this is a movie without any villains. The one secondary character borders on saintly. It’s a classic “man against nature” thriller, and the scope of nature’s ability to kill here is truly frightening. When you depend a thin layer of archaic and marginal 1960s tech for every ounce of survival, things like 300 degree temperature swings and small bits of metal traveling 20,000 miles an hour are formidable foes.
Let’s sidestep for a second and talk about the Science Fiction. Gravity doesn’t assume any future tech. It’s set right now, or perhaps even 2011 as we haven’t launched a space shuttle since then. The events are improbable, and even a few are probably unsurvivable, but the film doesn’t go out of its way to be unrealistic or gratuitous. If I had to choose things to disbelieve, I can: Some of that huge debris storm would likely have hit Sandra (fatally). The sheer amount of physical punishment (being whacked around) would be pretty tough to take. Sandra manages to do a lot of things that are probably very difficult, very quickly. The 3 hours shown would be unimaginably exhausting. Her ISS Soyuz capsule was traveling pretty fast as she passed the Chinese station, and there is no friction in space, so I’m not sure the thrust in a single half-used fire hydrant would be sufficient to match velocity with the station. Or that she had the talent to fly with it. The early reentry of said station would probably be catastrophic as well. But this is all unimportant. Movies require suspension of disbelief, and this film doesn’t demand such unreasonably.
Gravity does everything a film should do. It provides character and drama. Shock and spectacle. Thrills and tears. Enough said.