Alfonso Cuaron’s new film GRAVITY is a breathtakingly magnificent adventure into the cosmos with American astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). The opening moments give us a truly spectacular view of the big blue marble as we hear the voice of none other than Ed Harris (The Right Stuff, Apollo 13) speaking to them from Mission Control as they work on repairing a Hubble telescope. Harris was of course a perfect choice and a nice nod by Cuaron to the older space travel films he appeared in.
As Stone toils away doing her computer tech, Kowalsaki playfully circles around her with his jetpack. You really feel like you’re right up there above Earth with them the way the shots are composed and through the camera movements. The tranquility and joy of these opening scenes are suddenly shattered when they’re alerted by NASA that some debris from a broken satellite is headed their way. This destructive onslaught begins the films highly intense, moment to moment hallucinatory odyssey as we watch the astronauts try to cope with their out of control situation. Stone is knocked off of the telescope and begins to float away into the cold abyss. Her rapid breathing pattern (which recalls memorable moments from Kubrick’s 2001) expresses her panic and we get to see through her point of view as she tries to keep contact with NASA and Kowalski.
An interesting detail regarding Stone and Kowalski is we find out they don’t know each other that well. This isn’t your typical “romantic couple in space” movie which I thought was refreshing and made it feel more true to life. George Clooney’s Kowalski is witty and humorous but selfless and detached at the same time. Sandra Bullock gives what I think is one of her very best performances as Ryan Stone. I first noticed her in 90s movies like Speed and Demolition Man where she played pretty ditzy characters. In this magnificent production it’s clear she’s come a long way since then and can hold her own being up front with grace and strength. You really root for her throughout the film and want her to triumph in the various obstacles she’s faced with.
Gravity is a marvelous technical achievement for this genre and film in general. Audiences have been bombarded with so much overkill in regards to CGI and brainless action that we’ve lost that joy of experiencing old school pure cinema that can captivate us through visual storytelling. What Cuaron does masterfully in addition to his amazing direction is utilize the three dimensional format to submerge the viewer as much as possible into the atmosphere. These aren’t gimmicks but visual flourishes that add an emotion (from humor to shock) to every scene. One of my favorite uses of the 3D wasn’t the larger objects (like the life saving and impeding umbilical-like cords) but the subtle glare on glass which made me feel like I was really inside the astronaut’s helmet and tears that floated and melted, covering the screen.
Gravity takes us on a edge of your seat journey that we’ve seen touched upon before in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and Brian DePalma’s Mission To Mars but not to the extent, realism or visceral quality that this production depicts. It is the only up close and personal version of being in space outside the shuttles and capsules in all the sci-fi films we’ve watched over the decades. The beating heart of the story is about the times in our lives when we’re faced with circumstances we don’t think we’ll get through and how often there’s a glimmer of hope supplied to keep us going. For me, Gravity is essentially a metaphor for not giving up on the wonderful places cinema can take us (Thanks Alfonso & Co!) and also a heartfelt commentary about the fragility and strength we share as human beings.