When it all comes down to it, there is a lot to be said for home viewing. Sure, the screen is bigger and the sound is better in a theater, but there are also more than a few headaches. I had racked up what I spent just to have an afternoon at the movies. Transportation, lunch, tickets. It was looking pretty bleak, and I’m saying that as someone who only spent for themselves. I honestly don’t know how you family people swing it sometimes. And then, once the movie is ready to begin, what do I put up with? People are coughing, talking, texting and verifying seating arrangements with their kids. Personally, one of the biggest draws of going to the movies for me is being a captive audience, not stopping the film while I take care of some other important business, no matter what. I know that it sounds anti-social but for all but those few films where a big audience is a major benefit, I would just as soon watch a film in a locked cabin with no one else and no option of leaving.
About five minutes into GRAVITY, the talking, texting and medical situations ceased entirely. Everyone was silent, with rapt attention fixed on the screen. I was right there with them. GRAVITY hooked me from the beginning and made me think twice about my grumpy cinematic preferences. Besides, as GRAVITY points out, too much isolation can be pretty awful.
The film opens with a space mission already in progress. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is trying in vain to set up a piece of important equipment on the International Space Station. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is a seasoned astronaut on his last mission who just wishes he would get a chance to break the record for the longest space walk. Their banter while working is cut short when NASA orders them to abort right away. The Russians have destroyed one of their own satellites and the resulting debris has caused a chain reaction. Soon, debris will come flying at them at critical velocity and telecommunications will be lost. Attempts to get back in the space shuttle are unsuccessful as the debris comes, damaging the shuttle and station. Stone and Kowalski are sent flying into space.
The rest of the film involves a fight for survival, as the only survivors of the mission try to find their way to safety, so that they can get back to Earth. This is the predicament made clear in the trailers. But for once, the advertising hasn’t given away all the goods. They have managed to keep a lot of the big stuff quiet and in some cases, are even slyly misleading. Yes, there are more obstacles than just floating in space, as if that weren’t enough. The film is tense from beginning to end.
But GRAVITY is about more than that. It’s about discovering the value and joy in life long after that joy has left you behind. It’s about looking death in the face and fighting anyway. Most importantly, it’s about the things you need to hold onto and the things you let go.
Bullock and Clooney are at their best here. Clooney is the very picture of an astronaut. Wise cracking with a bit of an ego, but someone who knows very well what he’s doing. Bullock has never been better. Since blasting onto the scene in the 1990s, she proved herself to be one of our most likeable actresses. Her recent work has also shown her to be one of our best actresses, with GRAVITY blowing any criticism of her abilities out of the water.
In the special effects department, Academy voters have had their work done for them. Sure, they can try to nominate PACIFIC RIM or the next HOBBIT film. And yes, those films look great. But actually handing the award to anyone else would be a major upset. It’s one thing to create fantasy worlds and quite another to duplicate the real world as convincingly as it is here. Logic tells us that GRAVITY wasn’t actually shot in space, but you’d never know it from what is on the screen. To this first-time viewers eyes, there was an incredible attention to detail, making this one of the most authentic trips to the stars ever committed to film.
Alfonso Cuarón knows just the approach to take here. The camera moves as fluidly as the bodies in space and never takes center stage over the emotional story. Even at the most horrifying and despairing moments of the film, it never ceases to be sort of beautiful. And yet, Cuarón knows that all the special effects in the world mean nothing if the film doesn’t have a heart. GRAVITY has heart.
Of course I was foolish. This is why I go to the movies. Not the people, not the expense, but this. This experience. In his review, my cohort Austin Kennedy called GRAVITY the best film of the year so far. I disagree with my friend quite a bit. But this time, I’m happy to say that we are in complete agreement. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and language.
– Running time: 1hr 30mins.