Alfonso Cuaron’s simple, spare sci-fi film Gravity opens with onscreen text describing the many ways that make space an inhospitable void—zero oxygen, no air pressure, temperatures that wildly oscillate between extremes—which perfectly sets up what turns out to be a particularly harrowing survival at sea story. Only instead of endless expanses of water, our survivors happen to surrounded by…nothingness. Cuaron endeavors to strand two astronauts far away from their damaged shuttle in the deep, dark loneliness of space and the results are never less than gripping.
Cuaron spares no expense bringing Gravity to life, but this is no leaden spectacle for spectacle’s sake: for all the bravura sequences he employs, including the already infamous opening track shot, which evinces a “how’d they do that?” wide-eyed wonderment, Cuaron elects to keep this a stripped down, intimate affair. Clocking in at a lean 90-something minutes, the film simply focuses on a pair of astronauts, the easygoing vet Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and uptight newbie Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as they are separated from their ship by shrapnel from a series of destroyed satellites hurtling through the orbit. Battered, tossed around and with oxygen levels seriously low, the pair set off for a nearby abandoned Russian ship…
Let’s just say that for much of its runtime, Gravity is very suspenseful and incredibly terrifying tale of astronauts who encounter one damn thing after another as they attempt to survive in deep space. Things, unfortunately, go a little wonky in the second half as Cuaron narrows his focus even further and the narrative begins to run out of a little steam as Cuaron (co-writing with his son Jonas) struggles to fill out his slim runtime with incident upon incident.
That’s not even that big a knock on the film, as Cuaron maintains a consistently scary grip on the material. He’s aided,of course, by his two stars, who dim their star wattage to deliver the right ego-free performances for the material: Clooney is the picture of efficient, warm professionalism as the yarn-spinning Kowalski while Bullock is the right mix of terrified and capable as the green astronaut forced to face life or death on her first mission. Add on top of the that the ever beautiful, ever inventive, ever astounding visual palette Cuaron brings to the film—really, you’ll be gobsmacked by the uber-realistic FX here, which makes for one of the rare films to actively see in 3D—and you have a sci-fi film that is engaging, frightening and, quite frankly, a must see for fans of space-set spectacle.
4 out of 5 stars.
Johnny Donaldson is an actor, writer, foodie, and raconteur who’s been immersed in the geek world since childhood, especially when The X-Files changed his life. (Fox Mulder is his Han Solo.) A published film critic (his college-era movie reviews can be found in the archives of rottentomatoes.com) and a film producer with two films under his belt, Johnny likes kitty cats, coffee, the color purple (not the movie, the literal color purple), dark microbrews and good horror/scifi/fantasy and superhero movies. And occasionally long walks on the beach, when it’s not too hot.[divider]
Aaron Wood‘s take:
I managed to score two free passes through Klout to see an advanced screening of Gravity last week. I guess someone sees me as important enough online to warrant checking out a movie which has recently been drumming up a lot of calls for Oscar nods and various other kudos from both critics and viewers alike. All this for a movie that’s not even officially released yet.
After watching the initial trailer, I do admit, I was intrigued. Would this be another typical disaster movie? People get stranded after tragic accident and must overcome all odds to be rescued (or rescue themselves) safely. Just place the setting in space this time around, instead of some terrestrial location.
Lights dim. Trailers play. The cue to don our 3D glasses comes on the screen.
We’re met with a shot of the Earth against the inky blackness of space. Spectacular. Definitely a breathtaking sight. I have to say that the 3D in this movie is well done and warranted. For most movies it’s a cheap gimmick and usually unnecessary, but in Gravity‘s case it works to enhance the feeling of being in space.
Enter the crew of the Space Shuttle Explorer. Sandra Bullock is Dr. Ryan Stone, a practical, no-nonsense engineer who is sent to update the Hubble Telescope with some new hardware. Accompanying her with his witty banter and humorous anecdotes is seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalsky, played by George Clooney. The rest of the crew is briefly introduced and also the voice of Mission Control, veteran actor Ed Harris, is there to keep the astronauts on task.
All the while, there’s been a report of a satellite that’s exploded due to a missile strike. This starts off a cascade of destruction with other satellites and orbiting objects and soon a wave of high-speed debris is sent hurtling at the shuttle.
What follows is a little more than an hour of some of the most tense and hectic moments on film. I won’t spoil any plot points beyond my initial set up for those of you wanting to see Gravity. Amazing camera work, effects and a haunting soundtrack lends all lend themselves amazingly well to a movie that could have found itself lost in space, but somehow comes up with the right stuff.
If you do wind up going to see this movie, I’d recommend seeing it in 3D. Something I don’t often do.
4 out of 5 stars.
Aaron is a graphic designer currently residing in the state of Massachusetts. When he’s not creating artwork that has a social media or pop culture angle to it, he’s probably trying to cook up a plot to score some lobster. Find his prints and books for sale at his Etsy shop.