Movie Review: Gravity

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Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language, Running time 90 minutes, Drama/Thriller

Compare to: Apollo 13 (1995), Castaway (2000), Open Water (2003)

From the opening shot to the closing, director Alphonse Cuarón (Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men) gives us a film that not only earns it’s place among films featuring catastrophes in space, it elevates the sub-genre of “Space Drama” in a way that won’t be matched for a while, if ever.

The direction, the acting, the effects; all of it combines perfectly for a film that has you gripping whatever you can in hopes that these two survivors can continue to make their way home, if not for just a couple more minutes.

a million man hours and that same man's life went into making this shot.

A million man hours and that same man’s life went into making this shot.

Bio medical-engineer Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first mission to space in an effort to repair a part of the Hubble telescope. Accompanied by veteran astronaut Kowalski, who is on his final mission, the two barely live through flying debris caused by a Russian anti-satellite. Wit much destruction caused to their ship, the two must figure out what to do next before their oxygen runs out, or any of the other causes of death they might fall prey to in the void of space.

There’s really not much to say without giving away what actually happens in the film. Within the first few minutes, we’re introduced to our protagonists, and within the next few, disaster ensues and we’re in for a ride that at once makes you feel claustrophobic while simultaneously fearing how endless space really is.

It's like, REALLY endless.

It’s like, REALLY endless.

If anyone has ever been a skeptic as to how a heavily-featured special effects film would take it’s place in the annals of cinema, look no further than Gravity. A single shot will have us seeing Bullock floating off into nothing…only to easing us into her actual mask seconds later, hearing what she hears; seeing what she sees.

The wide shots make you realize how hopeless it all is, while the more up close and personal moments let you feel Bullock’s manic despair. In every way conceivable, we’re able to get something of an idea of that situation she’s in, and just what it would be like to be alone in a way very few have ever actually known. Being buried alive feels comparable.

Kind of like "Buried," sure, except you don't want Sandra Bullock to die in this.

Kind of like “Buried,” sure, except you don’t want Sandra Bullock to die in this.

Cuarón’s long-time collaborator, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki excels here as he has previously, preferring to let the moment linger in moments of crisis rather than quick cuts, letting us feel that anything could happen in that moment, rather than leading us up to the conclusion of a scene as films like this so often do. No stone of the astronaut’s view is left unturned.

There are several references, or at least visual homages to other films with similar content, that one may or may not catch, quality notwithstanding. From Bullock’s overall appearance and role harkening back to Ellen Ripley of Alien, to the mid-space use of a fire extinguisher to propel oneself a la Wall-E, it’s all enjoyable. The most obvious, yet still subtle example would have to be Mission Control’s voice of Ed Harris, reminding of us of his role in The Right Stuff and Apollo 13.

"Is that a Xenomorph in your pants or are you just happy to see me?"

“Is that a Xenomorph in your pants or are you just happy to see me?”

Allusions to Bullock’s character going from the womb to birth are also well placed and welcome.

You’re going to like this one. If you’re in the mood for something a bit faster paced or one with less weight to it, no pun intended, then sure, go for something else. But in the dry cinematic climate that is August through October, Gravity is not only your best bet, but one that will have you appreciate the simple things; like the omission of all but a couple actors, the right setting, and air.

Grade: B+

Side note: 3D is underwhelming as usual. This film has maybe the best use the technology I’ve seen, but it still turns simple shots into moments that are now meant to “Wow!” you and it just feels wrong to do that to a movie that has more to it. Save the extra three bucks. Unless you’re seeing it in IMAX, which this movie is perfect for.

Also, check out what astrophysicist Neil Tyson deGrasse thought about the movie’s realism. Pretty funny stuff.

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