Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
On a seemingly routine repair of the Hubble telescope a sudden shower of debris from a nearby Russian satellite completely destroys the telescope leaving two astronauts; the confident veteran Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) and inexperienced nervy engineer Ryan Stone (Bullock), stranded and alone in space. With only the few remaining thrusts of Kowalsky’s jet pack, oxygen running critically low and no communication with earth, the two must attempt to get to another space station before another violent shower of debris passes, and somehow get home.
Alfonso Cuarón, welcome back! It is a whole seven years after his superbly made Children of Men, but after watching Gravity it is understandable why it has taken so long for his next film. I cannot emphasise enough in words the painstaking attention to detail and preparation that must have gone into making Gravity, and it makes a gap of seven years between films understandable. Gravity is a visual masterpiece and impeccable technical achievement that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Despite the lean 91 minute running time, this is definitely enough as due to Cuarón’s eye for immaculate authenticity it is a permanently intense and involving experience that feels so much longer. The long takes (first edit from the opening scene takes 13 minutes) and swooping camera work providing a disconcerting feeling of genuine weightlessness, dizziness and instability making this by far the most authentic film set in space that I have ever seen. When the carnage happens, there are no loud bangs, just muffled noises and a constant feeling of helplessness.
This is a film that I found on many occasions to be infuriating and hard going, but as strange as that sounds, that is meant as complement of the highest order to Cuarón and DOP Emmanuel Lubezki. As the camera weaves from Inside Sandra Bullock’s helmet to floating around the obliterated space station it is forgivable for feeling like actually being there, and the authentic and laboured movements of our protagonist making the narrative almost feel like it is in real time, and an extremely long 91 minutes.
Story wise, of course Gravity is nothing new and the inevitable lulls in action expose some extremely clunky and clichéd exposition. The characteristics of our two protagonists are of course as opposite as they can be (Clooney: experienced and calm, Bullock: inexperienced and tense) and revelations about their past (particularly Bullock’s) though intended to be emotional in my view add very little depth. Ultimately the fact is character depth is not exactly too important as we can already relate to a character that is stranded alone in space with the primary motivation of trying not to die. There is also a supposedly pivotal scene in the narrative at about two thirds which though supposedly emotional, I found to be a little off putting. Of course I understand the narrative needs to occasionally take a breather from the intensity and action, but at times it does verge on boring. However, rest assured that does not last for very long at all.
It is obvious Cuarón struggled to fill the lean running time as in my view he perhaps pushes things a little too far in the final 10 minutes in terms of obstacles. However the slightly episodic narrative and cardboard cut-out characters can all be forgiven just for the fact that Gravity is such a technical achievement and unique visual experience. This is not for me a film that will stay with you or a repeat viewing film, but as a one off view is both a unique and involving experience that needs to be seen at the cinema (and, I never thought I would say this: in 3D!).
Gravity is an unparalleled technical achievement, cementing Cuarón as a visionary director whose meticulous attention to detail provides an authentic experience of space. If ever there was a film to justify the outrageous admission fee and uncomfortable glasses, this is it.