Reviewed by Ian Forbes
Mankind has long been fascinated with the notion of going into space. There’s an element of uncharted exploration, mixed in with a little bit of thrill seeking, scientific curiosity, and perhaps a dash of wanting to gain a truly unique perspective on this little blue orb we call home. For decades, a select group of men and women have rocketed their way out of the atmosphere and come away with an experience to which few can truly relate.
Now, I know I’ll never be an astronaut. There are far too many certifications involved and I’m a sissy. However, I love the idea of being given the virtual equivalent of such an undertaking and short of an IMAX documentary about the International Space Station or actually blasting off into orbit, director/co-writer Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is the closest I’ll probably get.
I’ll admit to having very little expectations for the story on display. While I like Sandra Bullock and George Clooney just fine, they’re also of such mega-stature that the idea of suspending any of my disbelief seemed like a pipe dream. To some extent, that preconceived notion held up; but I readily admit that this film may be the single most satisfying movie to see in a movie theater all year. I missed Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder so I can’t judge his usual spectacular cinematography with Cuarón’s work here but considering both films have the same actual cinematographer, the great Emmanuel Lubezki, I have a feeling it’s a bit like choosing between which side of the Kit Kat to eat first. It’s going to be tasty either way (sadly, I’m in no way compensated for that shameless plug).
The movie itself is rather easy to sum up and I’ll do so without revealing any spoilers. Basically, Bullock and Clooney start off the film on a spacewalk, working to repair a component of the Hubble telescope. About five minutes into the repairs, stuff goes horribly, horribly wrong and our two astronauts find themselves drifting in orbit with only the slimmest of hopes to save themselves from either drifting off into space, running out of oxygen, or both. Hah. No spoilers!
What follows is 80-ish more minutes of a struggle to survive and MacGyver their way through the insane amount of literal and figurative obstacles placed in their path. It’s intense and it’s mesmerizing and it’s a pure visual treat. Cuarón manages to weave together a whole slew of CGI wizardry, good performances from what are essentially the only two cast members, and his trademark super long shots, into a masterpiece of eye-candy. The images are stunningly beautiful and terrifying all at once.
Even the 3D works! Yes, I said it. The 3D is worth it. While this may not be the most immersive example of the technology, it does add that extra bit of depth necessary for a movie like this. It also brings the zero gravity objects into play a bit more and rounds out the experience. I would also recommend seeing it in the largest format you possible can (though not at a drive-in, as the sense of being immersed in the story goes out the window when you can see the real world all around you). Sadly, San Diego doesn’t have a true IMAX theater showing non-educational films so I had to make do with one of the larger screens here but it still made a huge impression on my enjoyment of the spectacle Cuarón assembled.
Now, all of that smoke blowing isn’t to say it’s perfect. There are of course some issues with physics and after doing some light Internet research, the distance between the Hubble and the International Space Station makes one segment of the movie pure fiction. However, I can forgive the elements forgone in this area for the sake of the story, and I can even forgive some of the contrived dramatic plot points; as I was riveted by most other elements.
The one big, AND NOISY, element I wish could be changed before this is publicly released is the score, done by Steven Price. There are some nice notes and themes throughout but there’s a re-occurring gathering of cacophonous noise that rises to a crescendo and then cuts out, in the most obvious and trite attempt to remind people that there is no sound in space, as well as artificially increase the tension. It’s bad enough he does this at the opening of the movie but to do it over and over and over and over again was pretty much infuriating and I found myself distracted from the otherwise gripping and engaging film each subsequent time the score decided to go bonkers.
As such, what is visually one of the most breathtaking narrative films I’ve ever seen doesn’t live up to its full potential. However, those visuals are so magnificent that I’ll be sure to head back to the theater for another 3D journey into space with Miss Congeniality and Dr. Ross. There’s no way that the home market can recreate the experience so if you are at all interested in the movie, you simply NEED to see this on as large a screen as you can find and go ahead and shell out a few extra bucks for the 3D. Those who read my reviews often know how rare it is that I’d so strongly recommend the most expensive trip to the movieplex so take that for what you will.
This doesn’t have the narrative complexity of Cuarón’s masterpiece, Children of Men, but it will leave an impression on those who find the same joy as I do in the opportunity films have to transport us to adventures most of us will never have the chance to experience in real life. Between the long shots, the almost claustrophobic but utterly amazing first person views, and the backdrop of Earth spinning below, Gravity quickly takes hold and doesn’t let go. There’s a bad joke in there somewhere … oh wait, found it. Just see the movie, okay?
Gravity opens in theaters on October 4, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.
Follow Us On: