Published on October 6th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
When I saw the trailer for Gravity, I thought it looked sort of like Open Water in space, but my interest was bammed up a notch when I noticed that it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, who made Children of Men, one of the best dystopian sci-fi movies of the 21st century so far, both in terms of storytelling and visuals.
In Gravity, George Clooney plays likeable astronaut Matt Kowalski and Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first mission for NASA. An accident in space leaves them adrift, with just their wits (and some other satellites in orbit) to try and get back to Earth.
Visually, Cuaron has upped the ante not only for himself, but also for other unfortunate filmmakers who travel in his wake. It’s a technical masterpiece. The camera floats around and about, utilizing 360 degrees of visual information as it circles around Stone et al. You really get the sense of zero gravity, which makes it that much more insane when the shit hits the fan. If you felt tethered and wonderful while things were calm, you feel a stomach-churning, panicked light-headedness when events are spinning out of control. Sound is also used to excellent effect, dropping in or out to really sell certain scenes.
The use of 3D is something that has come up in several conversations I’ve had about the movie. My hate-on for this gimmicky effect is infamous, but I was told beforehand that Gravity uses it well (for me, out of all the films produced in 3D, only Avatar and Life of Pi have ever come close to justifying its use). I’d have to agree that Gravity is indeed one of the best uses of 3D I’ve seen, though, for me at least, it wasn’t enough to validate its inclusion.
Space is a good milieu for 3D, because there’s less visual clutter, and objects in zero G, whether they be equipment or floating tears, looked pretty damn cool. Some of the flying debris felt more like someone was poking you in the eye, which I didn’t like. Unfortunately, 3D still darkens the screen so much that it feels like you’re watching it through a burlap sack. And there were also scenes where lit up control panels against a dark background created an ugly ghosting effect. Anyway, no one wants me to turn this into yet another rant about 3D, so suffice to say, I’d have rather seen the film on a giant IMAX screen in 2D. You should see it on the biggest screen possible.
While she did a competent job, I don’t think Sandra Bullock was the right person to cast in this role. The character is a fish out of water, an engineer afraid of working in the astronauts’ world. Bullock got a bit of mileage out of this, but I’d have to ask, was this acting? Or was it that she herself, like her character, was also a fish out of water — a mediocre actress playing a part that should have gone to a better actress? In a movie that actually is very much in that Open Water vein, the emotions of the actor/character are one of the only things we the audience are tethered to, and we rely on her to be the humanity in the story. While she didn’t ruin the film, she didn’t transport me either; I felt like I was always aware that I was watching Bullock ‘act,’ as opposed to really feeling the character’s terrors and triumphs. To be positive, I like that this character had a bit of an arc, the story of someone who wasn’t sure if she wanted to commit to life or death (though you’d think a NASA psych screening would disqualify such a character from being sent into space).
But really, any nitpicking is just the exploration of very minor details. Gravity is an excellent action movie that has nail-biting moments and tension, but also some story and brains. It’s a tightly told story with almost no fat on it, unfolding in the cold of space at a breakneck pace with a singular visual style that we haven’t really seen before in movies about space. It should be proving to Hollywood that you can have your cake and eat it too — you can have an action packed, visual spectacular, but also a good, smart story that will bring both film geeks and casual filmgoers to the theatre.