42 days. That’s how long Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and flight engineers Shariff (Phaldut Sharma) and Dr Ryan Stone have been in space. They are on a routine space-walk to the Hubble Telescope to work on some components when disaster strikes. Floating debris from a destroyed Russian satellite is travelling faster than a bullet and they are in its path.
Gravity is not for the faint-hearted. From the outset, you are drawn in by a breathtaking vista of Earth and equally terrified by the vastness of space – the ultimate abyss. Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón, in a well-choreographed father and son partnership, deliver one of the best films of the year. It’s a small film in a big, shiny package. A new film with an old soul and normally such a simple story would be a mark against it but in this case the excellent execution far outweighs the lack of originality in the narrative. Gravity pays homage to those that came before it (2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Appollo 13 and others), like in the utilisation of Ed Harris voicing Mission Control, and was Alfonso Cuarón’s brainchild for 4 years – why? He had to wait for the technology to catch up with his vision. Avatar‘s and Life of Pi‘s releases opened that door.
The visual effects design from Tim Webber, production design by Andy Nicholson and cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is so astonishing and realistic with CGI that doesn’t look like CGI. There’s more than a few unbelievable shots and scenes, one in particular that appears almost embryonic. If I didn’t know any better, I could believe that this was filmed in space rather than Sheperton Studios in England. Along with Steven Price’s gorgeous score, Cuarón succeeds in creating the ethereal environment in which we become part of the emotional fight for survival, the most primal of human instincts.
As the famous Alien tagline goes, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Stone (Bullock), a novice astronaut after completing 6 months of training, learns this in a petrifying way. How scary would it be to float into space, unattached, with no one to hear your cry for help? You don’t have to wonder, you feel it. I don’t think I exhaled until 10 minutes into my journey home. At one point, you even become Stone, not just seeing the fear across her face but gasping at oxygen, spiralling into nothing as you look through her misty helmet. Bullock, considering this is pretty much all green screen, delivers one of the best performances of her career. George Clooney plays the unflappable, jovial mission commander Kowalski on his last flight before retirement, providing the jokes and the charm and he effortlessly delivers. When he calms Stone, he does it so effectively he ends up calming you too.
For Gravity, there is nothing revolutionary about its tale, no hidden plot twists or enemies. For the father and son contingent, they have moulded something truly magnificent from something so elementary and that is a feat. One with which the box office clearly agrees. Apart from the simple story, there are some inaccuracies in the science but these don’t detract too much from the film or the experience. The things that matter are realistic like when the debris starts a collision chain reaction, you hear nothing but you see the carnage and that is spine-chilling.
There are currently 6 astronauts in space right now, I really hope their time spent there is a lot less eventful. Gravity left me speechless (not to mention slightly light-headed) which is unusual as I’m rarely at a loss for words. In the same way that music loses a little something when heard through a speaker and not live, this film is not quite the same on a small 2D screen. I urge you to see this in the IMAX in 3D – the medium this was truly intended for, the way the creators imagined it. This film has struck a balance between the special effects and the drama and that is uncommon, and a few Oscar nods are definitely in its near future. It is unmissable.
What did you think? Out of this world or a drag? Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.