In Space, It’s Unstoppable
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS MAY OCCUR
There are some films that by their very existence justify the entire profession of filmmaking. Gravity is one of those films. It is an absolutely stunning expose of what cinema can accomplish and a breathtaking feat of excellence after sitting through comic blockbuster after blockbuster after blockbuster. It is cinema par excellence, a sheer feat of filmmaking that will surely set the standard on how to make a film for ages to come. It is also fairly difficult to review this film without giving away spoilers, as the film essentially constitutes a massive set piece after another, but rest assured I will do my best not to give away major plot points. The trailers also gave people an impression that the film essentially revolves around Sandra Bullock floating in space, and that is terribly untrue (even though that impression can certainly be made from the trailers themselves). Gravity in all of its roots is a sci-fi thriller that does get the heart racing and once the momentum picks up, it never lets it go. Alfonso Cuarón’s direction specifically calls for praise here and it would not be a matter of any shock if he walks away with the Oscar for Best Direction. Sandra Bullock gives arguably the best performance of her career, the entire film literally resting on her shoulders with a funny George Clooney being delegated a supporting actor slot. The visual effects of the film occupy the top echelon of visual filmmaking of all time and for many the film functions as the closest they will ever get to actual space.
Cuarón’s opening panning shot of 13 minutes where the camera does not break alone is deserving of every single possible praise for camerawork and visual spectacle that exists. The camera remains in a constant, singular motion, allowing for the spectacular shots of the astronauts to float into the camera’s purview rather than forcing the camera to follow the actors. But past that 13 minute mark follows a stunning shattering of the satellite by debris. A good number of shots in that sequence have been released as trailers themselves, but seeing it unfold in the film is a truly terrifying sequence and yes, you can heart pounding every second of it. Once the destruction abates, the film does not become any less terrifying or heart-pounding. Relying mostly on Bullock and to a lesser extent Clooney, Cuarón throws one obstacle in their path after another after another. By the time the film crosses the 45-minute mark, one but all gives up hope of having a sequence where the two characters are safe for longer than three minutes of screentime. Make that two.
Bullock’s performance is anchoring here, as she conveys the spectacular terror of being in space for the very first time. She was trained for six months, but even so, her reactions to nearly dying again and again and again are resolutely human. Cuarón intelligently resists the urge to make her character, Dr. Ryan Stone, into a sort of super-character without weaknesses. Despite the extremeness of her circumstances, Bullock grounds Dr. Stone into a character who remains remarkably human and that is one of the keys to the film’s success. Clooney is reliably charming and hilarious as always, his veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky providing a remarkable amount of emotion and depth with the limited screen time focus on his character. There is even a nice little callback to Apollo 13 with Ed Harris as the voice from Mission Control down in Houston, Texas.
Much has been made of Gravity being scientifically accurate or inaccurate. Gravity is by no means a high-budget NASA documentary from Warner Bros., so if that is your expectation, you are bound to be disappointed in one way or another. (the Chinese satellite is much farther away than in the film, for example). However, there are many moments in the film that are depicted accurately (for the most part, zero-gravity is done very well) and it might very well be the most space-accurate Hollywood spectacle put to the big screen. Certainly there is no bombastic sound in space and the film addresses that well, choosing instead to fill that sound void with Steven Price’s magnificent soundtrack. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki works brilliantly with the 3-D effcts, his deft touches around the screen brilliantly done. The 3-D is certainly used in an absolutely magnificent manner and justifies the format used so terribly by most films (I’m looking at you, Marvel movies).
Gravity is wonderful and the best film yet of 2013 not just for the sheer concept alone, but for the flawless execution of the concept. While other films of 2013 will challenge it for the top title and certainly the year looks to end quite strong, Gravity represents the pinnacle of cinematic achievement possible today. It is visually flawless without compromising any of the story. The 3-D effects enhance the film in every way instead of detracting from it. The performances are brilliant and the director knows what he is doing with the camera. The protagonist is a female yet the film never focuses acutely on her sex like so many films even till this day. Dr. Ryan Stone is smart, intelligent, and has the courage to fight until the screen goes to black. And once the screen goes black, she still hasn’t left the audience.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Producers: Alfonso Cuarón, David Heyman
Screenplay: Jonás Cuarón, Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Paul Sharma
Music: Steven Price
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki
Editing: Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger
Studio: Esperanto Filmoj, Heyday Film
Distributer: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running Time: 91 minutes
Release Date: October 4th, 2013 (U.S.); November 8th, 2013 (U.K.)
Image Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter