Synopsis: Academy Award® winners Sandra Bullock (“The Blind Side”) and George Clooney (“Syriana”) star in “Gravity,” a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. The film was directed by Oscar® nominee Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”).
Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) in command. But on a seemingly routine mission, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone—tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left.
But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
eyelights: the immersive 3D. the first-person perspectives. the direction. the cinematography. the soundtrack.
eyesores: the incessant, odds-defying twists. Sandra Bullock barking.
“Clear skies with a chance of satellite debris.”
‘Gravity’ is a survival story that takes place in Earth’s orbit, featuring Sandra Bullock as a scientist trying to make her way back home after an incident traps her in space. George Clooney has a small role as one of her colleagues and Ed Harris does a cameo as the off-screen voice of Mission Control.
‘Gravity’ is the eighth grossing film of 2013, globally, with a current tally of over 650 million dollars. It is widely acclaimed by critics across the spectrum, and has garnered the respect of other filmmakers, such as Quentin Tarantino and James Cameron. It’s in the running for and has won countless awards.
To think that the picture almost flew under my radar.
In a rare run to the cinema, my gf and I went to see it one Saturday, propelled by her son’s insistence that we should see it in 3D while we got the chance. Even though she has an aversion to 3D films, we tracked down the only location that still played it, and made a point of going while we still could.
We both walked out of there immensely impressed with what we saw.
I have only seen a few modern 3D movies so far, including ‘Avatar’, ‘Captain America’ and ‘The Avengers’, but have never seen a film that uses it as well as ‘Gravity’ did. Unlike many films, which use the technology more as a gimmick (sometime a poorly-conceived one) and as a reason to inflate ticket prices, this picture uses it for full immersion.
Given that the entirety of the picture takes place in space, that there is only one main character, and that there is no sound in space, adding a third dimension to the viewing experience seems like a no-brainer: by putting the audience in the action, so to speak, it gave them something else to cling to aside from the plight of Sandra Bullock’s character.
It pretty much puts the audience in space, floating about in zero-G.
Personally, I totally savoured watching some of the action from the characters’ perspective. There was this one moment, in particular, where Bullock is climbing around and we would only see her hands, which was terrific; it gave us the impression of being there, of crawling about outside a spacecraft, hanging on for dear life.
A lot of effort has been into putting us into Bullock’s spacesuit, of making us part of the story, complicit with her in some way. Simple little things like seeing the events through her visor, with the reflections from the lights inside her helmet, the condensation, …etc., all were used to great effect by director Alfonso Cuarón.
The zero gravity sequence were all superbly executed; I could easily imagine space to look like that, and this has been confirmed by a few astronauts and scientists. They did such long, continuous shots that I wondered how they managed to do this and fake the zero-G so well – with no cuts and with sets around them.
It turns out that they filmed only the actors’ faces for the exterior shots and CGI-ed everything else, but that for the interior shots, they had Sandra Bullock in this massive device for up to 10 hours a day – with the use of robot arms, and tons of intricate choreography, they were able to move Bullock exactly as needed in each scene.
Cuarón’ direction is phenomenal, especially when one considers all the movement that’s taking place in space, with everything floating about, and how the camera tries to keep us “there”. The way that he coordinated all his shots was phenomenal – it must have required quite a lot of preparation and storyboarding.
Fact is, Cuarón had been working on this film for years, where it languished in production hell – so he had plenty of time to prepare. It was first at Universal, before being moved to Warner Bros and they went through countless cast members, including Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, jr. before settling on Bullock and Clooney.
Their final picks were excellent ones:
Clooney, of course, brings class and maturity to almost any production, and he served as a great counterpoint to Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, who is relatively new and is pretty nervous about making mistakes. Clooney, our modern Cary Grant, provides level-headed, cockiness and a sure hand. I can’t imagine anyone else in the part.
As for Bullock, I’m no fan but I found her quite alright here. As far as her acting chops go, she didn’t suck: she was relatively realistic, and only annoyed me during that moment in the Chinese craft when she connects with someone else on an AM frequency and starts barking with them (don’t ask!). It was too silly, too Bullock-y for my taste.
Where Bullock was a great choice was apparently in the making of the picture. She was no diva: she trained for months before the picture, stayed in the sets for hours on end (or her own volition) and performed choreography that was akin to Cirque du Soleil in complexity (if not acrobatics, per se). Few others would have achieved this.
It was fascinating to watch her move in zero gravity because it was graceful, beautiful, almost like watching someone swimming in space. There was no -or very little- sound, of course, so the soundtrack was spare – a nice touch. The filmmakers filled it by adding a nicely atmospheric electronic score, backed by distortions and nuances.
But what about the story?
Well, the film really is a survival story in space – there’s not much else to it. After the opening salvo, which shows our leads working outside a space station (in one continuous 12-minute take!), the suspense then builds with their spacecraft suffering severe damage at the hands of debris and the two being propelled out of reach.
It all held up nicely until the moment that Bullock gets to the Soyuz. Then it devolved for me, becoming just a series of one misfortune after the next, with just enough good luck to get by. I mean, she’s barely five minutes in the Soyuz and it’s already all on fire. As if. By the time she gets to the Chinese station, I was no longer on board.
To sum up my impression, I would say that the first half is a solid 8.75. However, the second half is more of a 7.75. All in all, though, ‘Gravity’ was an exciting film, and there’s still plenty to recommend. At the very least, it’s a technical achievement and a masterful piece of direction. It likely deserves any awards that it gets.
See it, if you can.
Nota bene: The 3D was exceptional at providing depth and perspective without being too gimmicky. For a film of this sort, it was absolutely crucial, and I wouldn’t recommend seeing it any other way. The film was meant to be seen in 3D – case-in-point, that scene when Bullock is flying out in space, spinning 360, was designed for us to feel as though we’re there.
Do not see it unless you see it in 3D with a proper surround sound system! Any other way of seeing it would be a grave mistake: it would basically strip the film of its essential immersive qualities, rendering it almost meaningless. You have to be lost in the grandeur of space with these characters to truly appreciate it.
Date of viewing: November 16, 2013