Yikes! Gravity is not so much an ordinary movie as it is an awesome cinematic experience, at least when seen on as big a screen as possible and in 3D. And, really, 3D is the only way to go here. I implore everyone to watch this space thriller with existential-drama elements as co-writer/director/co-editor Alfonso Cuarón intended it to be seen.
Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock, who does a stellar job of conveying her character’s inner and outer journey) and Mission Commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney, solid as always) find themselves in grave danger when the intentional destruction by missile of a Russian satellite causes a chain reaction that results in a cloud of debris. The debris strikes their space shuttle, killing the rest of the crew and leaving Stone and Kowalski adrift in space. The two astronauts have to do everything they can to survive in the most extreme of environments and attempt to return to Earth.
The story, written by Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón, is simple but by no means simplistic. Beneath the surface runs the theme of mentally letting go and being reborn. Inevitably, the smallness of man comes to stand in stark contrast to the vastness of the universe. Gravity tells a powerful, intimate tale through a space-thriller narrative.
There are a few moments of humor in the film, virtually all of them coming from Kowalski. They could have felt forced, but Clooney’s delivery ensures that the humorous bits work within the context of the story.
At one point during the movie, I began to question its aspiration to realism. Fortunately, the nature of the scene in question turned out to be different from what it first seemed to be. Furthermore, just about everything that can go wrong for Stone does go wrong, but rather than coming across as contrived, it feels plausible and effectively maintains the narrative momentum of the proceedings.
The movie magic on display in Gravity is jaw-droppingly, out-of-this-world spectacular. The viewer actually feels as if they are up there, in space, together with the protagonists. Emmanuel Lubezki’s glorious cinematography, the terrific editing by Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger, and the remarkable visual effects stand out as three of the highlights in that regard.
My favorite set piece of several wonderfully impressive ones has to be the destruction of the International Space Station. There’s such an unexpected elegance to that very thrilling scene. Other great scenes include Stone first taking off her space suit and then floating in the fetal position, Stone communicating with an amateur radio operator on Earth, and the symbolically potent ending.
Since there is no sound in space, Steven Price’s fantastic music score plays a pivotal role in building atmosphere and eliciting emotional responses in the viewer. It may sound clichéd, but the score really does turn out to be a character in its own right. Moreover, the amazing sound design and sound mixing add to the immersive power of the film.
Relentlessly gripping and, at times, devastatingly intense, Gravity leaves the viewer exhausted in the best possible way. This is technically groundbreaking cinema and a visceral masterpiece.