Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gravity (2013)


I have never been to outer space and I will never travel to outer space.  While this statement applies to 99.9% of us, Gravity is powerful enough to make us fear a place we will never go to.  I will never become untethered from a spacecraft and tumble clumsily by myself with little hope of rescue, but Gravity assures me I am afraid of it.  You have seen movies set in space before, but I guarantee you, you have never seen anything like Gravity before.

Here is a 90-minute film that feels like 30 minutes when it’s over; I was shocked so much time had passed by the end.  Writer/director Alfonso Cuaron has made wonderful movies before (Y Tu Mama Tambien, 2001; Children of Men, 2006) and continues his streak of excellence by knocking Gravity out of the park.  There is minimal dialogue, just a handful of actors, extremely complicated physics, and enough adrenaline to make you enjoy the end-credit sequence to steady yourself before heading out to the lobby.

Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a communications specialist fixing the Hubble Telescope on her first mission aboard the space shuttle.  Completely focused on the mission at hand, her physiological readings give away to mission control (voiced by Ed Harris) just how nervous she is tucked into her space suit separated from the safety of the shuttle.  Mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) struts around on the opposite end of the spectrum.  He zooms around in his jet pack dodging and weaving between the shuttle and his team of scientists while telling funny stories to keep everyone calm.

Almost immediately, the mission is aborted and everyone is packing up to go home because of a chain reaction event of space debris heading straight for the shuttle.  An already nervous Dr. Stone has no idea what to do but steady as an ox Kowalski is there to take charge and logically talk her through what the next should be even though the absolute worst situations keep arising as soon as they solve the most recent calamitous event.

Clooney plays Kowalski as a rock-steady leader whose first priority is the safety of his crew.  The movie belongs to Bullock though.  She is front and center in every scene and even though it all occurs in zero gravity, she has the weight and stress of the world on her shoulders.  Floating, zooming, and sling-shotting around space from one disaster to another at break-neck speed is interspersed every now and again by a breather.

In a noticeably gorgeous film, the best shot of the movie is a very vulnerable Dr. Stone floating in a fetal position, which I could probably watch for an hour by itself.  There is some discussion about the film’s cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life, 2011) who will absolutely be nominated for an Oscar for his work.  Just like last year’s winner, Life of Pi, how much actual photography is there when just about every scene is filmed in front of a green screen and filled in with CGI effects? 

Also, I have no doubt there are multiple plot problems with the physics of the film.  I do not know enough about it, but just aiming at an object in space and hurtling toward it is probably not going to get you there.  You would need one of the brains from The Big Bang Theory to explain it to you when it’s over; however, at no point during the movie did I have time to think about what is an is not plausible. 

As in Avatar, just about everything you see on the screen is fake, yet Gravity is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen.  When a macro view of Earth is your background, it is hard not to just sit back and stare at it.  I highly recommend you see this film in 3D and on an IMAX screen.  Seeing at home on DVD for the first time will feel so much less impressive.    

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