Theatrical Review: Gravity

The crew of the space shuttle Explorer are on a mission in orbit over the Earth to add a new component to the Hubble telescope. Everything is going by the book with Dr. Ryan Stone installing the component, with some uneasy feelings about being in space, as astronaut Matt Kowalski fly around trying out his jet pack and keeping tabs on the mission. Word reaches the crew of Explorer that due to an accident with a Russian satellite, debris is speeding their way. They’re ordered to abandon their mission and get back to Explorer as quickly as they can but to no avail; the debris is already upon them. The Explorer is damaged beyond repair and all of the crew, except for Stone and Kowalski, are killed. With the International Space Station nearby, now the two must work together to survive while still adrift in space.

This is the premise to Gravity the latest film from visionary director Alfonso Cuarón as well as written by Cuarón and his son, Jonás Cuarón. Cuarón is best known for movies like Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. While I’ve not seen the Potter film, I’ve definitely seen Children of Men and just get more taken with the movie every time I see it. When I first saw the trailer for Gravity, I was just blown away by it and couldn’t wait to see it. Mentioning this to other people at the time, they were more indifferent about it and just had no interest at all in it. I get that, you see this extravagant trailer, hear that it’s in 3D (which automatically reduces interest for most people these days), and just get the general premise and you think that there’s really nowhere to go with it. Well, for me anyway, my excitement for the movie is justified as I think Alfonso Cuarón has crafted one of the best movies of the year and certainly goes far out of his way to show you that 3D can greatly add to the experience of the film.

Right off the bat, this is some of the best 3D that’s been produced yet for movies. Cuarón has stated in some interviews that most 3D movies are crap, especially those that tack it on as an afterthought, and he was determined to use it in a way that truly added to the experience, basically also saying that if you only see the movie in 2D, you’re only going to get about 30% of what he wants you to get out of it. I believe that to be the case as well. The danger that Stone and Kowalski faces here is certainly stunning in 2D, but with 3D, you actually feel the experience to great effect making the circumstances even more dire. There’s way more to say about the 3D here, but to say too much would be to spoil it and I certainly don’t want to do that. Regardless, even if you absolutely hate 3D, it’s still the best way to experience this film.

Along with that, the visual style and effects of the film are as first rate as it gets. In Children of Men, Cuarón amazed me with some of his scenes that suggest the idea of a massive single take and he does the same thing here as well with the film’s spectacular opening sequence which runs about 12-13 minutes in length. Right there, with just technique alone, Cuarón sucks you into his premise and he keeps you there through the rest of the film. The survival tale here will certain bring to mind things like Cast Away for most, though for me, I get a sense out of it more from movies like Open Water or 2010’s Frozen (this is not the upcoming animated film, but a terrific little survival suspense movie with three people trapped aboard a ski lift)- situations that seemed even more hopeless than what Tom Hanks faced on an island (though don’t get me wrong, I think Cast Away is a terrific movie). The trick here is making your characters either likable or identifiable and I tend to think that the Cuaróns have done both with their script, as well as giving you this extraordinary thrill ride. In addition, the sound design and Scott Price’s excellent score punctuates everything in just the right way and further adds to the uneasiness of the entire situation.

Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone and George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski and both deliver terrific work especially when you consider the fact that they’re working in a special effects film that they have no idea of what the final piece will look like in the end. I mentioned above about making your characters either likable or identifiable, and that’s split between the two actors with Bullock playing the identifiable part and Clooney having the more likable part. Clooney’s Kowalski seems more like an extension of who Clooney is in real life, whereas Bullock is the one that’s more got to find a way to inhabit a part, and while the two may be diametrically opposed points of view, they still manage to find a way to have real chemistry, especially with a scene late in the film (can’t say much more about this scene other than at first it will have you thinking that there’s no way this could happen- but trust in the Cuaróns on this one). This is terrific work from two of the top stars of the day… but still, the real star here is Alfonso Cuarón with an amazing visual sense and pacing that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire movie.

Don’t miss this! Gravity is just amazing entertainment from start to finish and I cannot wait to see what director Alfonso Cuarón has next on his plate. He’s taken a premise that most would see as being thin at best and has turned it into completely compelling storytelling with some of the best visual effects of the year as well as totally re-defining what a 3D film experience should be. Highly, highly recommended and if you choose to see this, definitely see it in 3D.