When the debris of a mishandled destruction of a satellite showers a group of astronauts in orbit on a routine Hubble Space Telescope mission, it hails down, shredding everything in its path. Caught in the Earth’s orbit, the wreckage has an incredible momentum behind it. In space, every second is vital and every inch of movement is crucial in survival, so when one of the astronauts dislodges from a piece of the space shuttle out of control, it sends that individual hurtling through space with nothing to slow it down, nothing to bring it back to its inert state. This intense sequence is not the climax of Gravity, it is just a taste of the first 20 minutes of the film.
Even though Gravity is grounded in reality, this is an exemplary science fiction-horror story birthed to be seen on the big screen and yes it is worth the extra price for 3D. There is a hefty amount of nerdy knowledge needed to appreciate so many elements of Gravity, but if you just want to go and soil your pants then that’s okay too.
The viewer isn’t required to know the laws of science to enjoy Gravity, but having some context of math, physics, a visit to the museum to see historic space craft up close truly puts this film into perspective. Most importantly, the characters must be able to comprehend the science and do so. Rest assured, no one can no longer under-appreciate an astronaut’s risk, training, knowledge, and quick application of that thinking into immediate action, nor undervalue the engineering of that technology that must withstand the forces of planetary science after seeing this film. Even Neil Degrasse Tyson would approve of the respect for science in Gravity.
Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a biomedical engineer on her first space mission, accompanied by four others, including longtime astronaut, Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney. Kowalski is attempting to break the record for longest spacewalk while Stone and others perform their research on Hubble and the Explorer space shuttle as many other revolutionary scientists have done before. But when Mission Control notifies them of the danger that fast approaches, there is nothing the crew can do except be sitting ducks. From that point on it’s a matter of survival, math, science, bravery and well… vectors.
There are times when it’s literally hard to breath and swallow, especially at the point of the initial contact of the debris. The camera work and movie magic blurs what is real and was is most assuredly digital compositing, lighting and painting; the scenery and the silence of outer space is equally exquisite and terrifying. I just can’t recall ever feeling a greater fear while watching a science fiction film.
Of course there was the Ridley Scott classic, Alien and James Cameron’s sequel Aliens, which were both splendid in their own way. That was monster magic and fantasy at its finest. 2001: A Space Odyssey is certainly in the discussion and that was made 45 years ago. That’s not to say that there isn’t any technical achievement in this film, in fact, the people behind the film are indeed the true stars of the film. From director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), to the stunning cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, which is full of those signature long shots, the sound design, to the mile long list of digital effects artist and the stunt performers put forth a unified effort that moviegoers will be marveling for years to come. It is perfect in its construction, pacing, and execution.
But Gravity has you feeling our protagonists’ panic more because every situation is such a believable moment of terror, rooted in reality. It is so much more frightening than any manufactured monster could ever be and the threat of expiring oxygen is present at all times, as is the fear of a potential rescue mission. Clooney, who spends much of the film equipped with a thruster pack, exudes the confidence and command of a seasoned astronaut. If you only had six months of training as Dr. Stone has, you’d want Kowalski there to coach you back to safe harbor.
As for the 3D element, I would be the last one to recommend a film be seen in 3D unless it truly warranted it. But when really great filmmakers get their hands on 3D, the experience is something special. James Cameron’s Avatar showed off a level of perceptive depth and expanded the massive palette of the screen, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo gave us a film where the 3D composition was thought of in every scene, and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi immersed us into a larger than life story.
What Cuarón did new with 3D in Gravity is enhance the experience of weightlessness, give the viewer the feeling of speed and a proper perception of distance that our protagonists are faced with. Most of the time our perspective is from a camera witnessing it all, but a few times gets us under the helmet in first-person point-of-view. I can’t recommend 3D for Gravity enough, especially with as bright (and new) a projector that one can find, the biggest screen you can find and the louder the sound system, the better. And if you get motion sickness from spinning, that might be the only forgivable excuse not to see it in 3D. Just don’t miss this on the big screen, you need as much room as you can get to appreciate outer space.
Gravity is not a story that will forever change your life but it is a remarkable thrill that puts the viewer so deep in the moment and pushes the technical achievements of filmmaking to a new pinnacle. Bullock and Clooney give real emotional weight to the situation. It takes no time for them to convince you of their characters’ endearing qualities in the short time we are with them. The simple story manages to be both personal and intimate despite its incredible above the atmosphere terrain. Without their performances, a technical-type of film such as Gravity would lack warmth. It is the 90-minute ride to top all other rides this year, and its relentless romp does not stop until the credits kick on, much in the same way Cuarón’s last film, the excellent Children of Men, did seven years ago. Needless to say, it was worth the wait.