When you factor in all the conventional components that make up a movie – acting, storytelling, directing, etc. – “Gravity” is an enjoyable, above-average film.
But when looked at as a technical achievement, it becomes something else entirely. It becomes wondrous and spectacular; a stunning visual treat that is not to be missed.
Director Alfonso Cuaron is probably best known for his work on the (arguably best) Harry Potter movie “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” but he hadn’t been heard from since 2006 when he released the excellent sci-fi flick “Children of Men.”
He essentially has spent all that time working on this movie, helping to innovate advances in computer animation and weightlessness simulation rigs that make “Gravity” possible.
Working with a script he co-wrote with his son, Jonas, Cuaron delivers a movie that is at its core a harrowingly simple tale of survival.
Sandra Bullock plays reserved astronaut Ryan Stone out for a spacewalk with mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney at his charming best) to repair a damaged space telescope. Bullock and Clooney are the only actors to appear on screen, although Ed Harris gets a brilliant cameo as the voice of Mission Control.
With virtually no warning, debris from a damaged satellite comes ripping through the shuttle, untethering Ryan and flinging her out into space.
Separated from her ship and her crew, Ryan must figure out a way not only to survive but to make it back to the terra firma of Mother Earth.
What immediately strikes you about “Gravity” is how real everything looks. It’s easy to think you’re watching an IMAX documentary instead of Bullock and Clooney playing pretend.
Apologies to Clooney, but Planet Earth is the movie’s true co-star as it fills up the screen, looming in the background of virtually every scene with clouds and oceans indifferently spinning by.
This is also the first movie to truly capture how disorienting space must be. There is no up or down, east or west, as the camera tilts and pans in all directions, serving only to heighten the anxiety and danger of any given situation.
I’m typically not the biggest 3D advocate in the world, but “Gravity” makes some impressive use of the effect and is one of the rare instances I would recommend ponying up some extra cash for the third dimension.
I’m hard-pressed to recall any movie before this that has crammed so much sublime beauty and focused stress simultaneously into each and every scene.
Bullock gives as solid and determined of a performance as she ever has and probably deserves more praise for enduring three months of being strapped into wires and harnesses than for anything that appears on screen. Between this and “The Heat,” 2013 has become (from a quality standpoint) the best year of her career.
I hesitate to call “Gravity” a science fiction movie as from an existing technology perspective this is all scientific fact. Since it features the now-retired space shuttle, it should probably actually be considered a period piece. At any rate, it is more in line with “Apollo 13” than “2001.”
This is ultimately a movie about solo survival, which interestingly makes it one of two movies coming out this month to tackle the subject. The other, “All is Lost,” features Robert Redford taking on the Indian Ocean in a leaky boat.
These movies complement each other nicely as both wrestle with themes of isolation, perseverance, and hubris. But, while “All is Lost” has an inward focus, “Gravity” breaks out the widest angle lens possible to show us the stupefying vastness of the universe in which we exist and how we all have to struggle to find our own meaning in the overwhelming enormity of it all.
That and lots of purdy, purdy pictures.
“Gravity” is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images, and brief strong language.