Gravity (2013)

Right out of the gate, it must be said that ‘Gravity’ is a stunningly beautiful film. Director Alphonso Cuaron (Children of Men) proves once again that he is essentially Michael Bay’s intellectual nemesis, seeing as how they occupy opposite ends of the ‘film-making talent’ spectrum (HACK———-VISIONARY). Cuaron has gained a notable reputation as a very disciplined director, with a high degree of technical ‘know how’ that he brings to the table in full force with this film.
The story is fairly rudimentary, as it focuses on a shuttle mission (to add a new component to the Hubble Telescope) that is abruptly and catastrophically interrupted by a storm of high-velocity debris (stemming from them pesky Russians deciding to destroy a satellite with a friggin missile!). As chaos is unleashed in low orbit, Sandra Bullocks ‘Mission Specialist Ryan Stone’ is catapulted into space. Through a series of not-unbelievable actions, Stone and George Clooney’s ‘Matt Kowalsky’ character engage in a haphazard plan to do whatever they can, with whatever they have, to survive the terrifying ordeal. It boils down to a case of ‘get to Point A, get to Point B, get to Point C’ before all bets are off.
As much of a marquee name as Clooney is, ‘Gravity’ really is Sandra Bullocks show and she does a great job with an admittedly thin character. We’re never given time to get to know these people before the shit hits the fan, as the main catalyst for the action comes about in the first 15 minutes, and ‘we’ join the proceedings mid-mission; with all characters engrossed in their work and surroundings. As Stone and Kowalsky forge toward salvation, their dialogue (used to keep the rattled Stone character even keel’d in her panicked state) reveals glimmers of who they were on Mother Earth, but given the horrifyingly tense situation they find themselves in, the characters are understandably broken down to their base parts, fueled by the instinct to live.
But, thin characters aside, Outer Space is the main character here. The way Cuaron has chosen to show Earth and the details of ‘orbit’ is hypnotic…and cringe-inducing. The opening shot is a vast, magnificent view of the Earth’s sunlit surface, that we are given the chance to just watch. As we take in the breathtaking vista, the action comes to us and becomes one of Cuaron’s signature unbroken shots that drifts smoothly around, among and through the scene for easily 10 straight minutes, with no cut in the editing. In fact, the entire film is a series of slickly connected looooonnnng shots that don’t shy from ‘stepping away’ and simply letting us take in what is transpiring.
Another terrific element is the sound design. As the opening TITLE CARD tells us, there is no oxygen, therefore no sound. This adherence to reality is well-maintained throughout the flick, and leads to several nail-bitingly good scenes of tension. It really is something to watch a character desperately focusing on a key task in the foreground, while in the background (and unknown to them), the ‘world’ is being violently torn apart…silently. When there is sound, they manage to convey the idea of vibration through surfaces as opposed to vibration through atmosphere. In many respects, these details made me think of another terrific film of human survival, ‘Cast Away’ (2000). In that film, much of the action occurs without the benefit (or detriment, depending on your PoV) of musical score, at least until the climax. It was just the sounds of the ocean, or the wind or the rain…and the main character, Chuck (Tom Hanks). Here, it’s small instrument sounds, panicked breathing and often, just silence.
If I had to complain about something, I would have to say that there are times (particularly in the 3rd Act), where a ‘big’ manipulative musical score was introduced…but not necessarily needed. It was like they felt that they had to make up for the realistic lack of sound with a grandiose score that, in the end, almost cheapened the events it was playing for. The end scene did NOT need a huge John WIlliams-wannabe musical accompaniment. I feel that it would have played much more effectively with something small and subtle….if anything at all.
‘Gravity’ was pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be, and what I hoped it would be was an ‘experience’. This flick was as close to a perilous and harrowing space accident as I EVER want to get. It’s a gorgeously crafted movie that makes GREAT use of the 3D format, as the realistic environments and tension-loaded situations depicted essentially beg for the 3 dimensional treatment. Cuaron is a master of his craft, and if there was still any debate about that before this, ‘Gravity’ should nicely put a cork in the naysayers. This is also one of those films that really does deserve to be seen on The Big Screen. To wait till a DVD/BluRay release is doing yourself a huge disservice…unless you own a big motherfucker of a TV, with a finely-tuned surround sound system to boot! Go see this soon. I guarantee it’ll get your ticker pumping like a racehorse’s. Mine sure did.

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