It’s not often that a film comes along that truly pushes the boundaries of what cinema can be, one that can astound on a technical level to immerse you in an experience that’s truly unforgettable. Gravity is one of those films.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón – the man behind such films as Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También and not to mention injecting some much needed gravitas into the Harry Potter franchise with Prisoner of Azkaban – has delivered a mind-blowing motion picture, with countless jaw-dropping visuals and use of sound that brings new meaning to the word immersive.
The plot centres on medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working alongside veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on her first real space mission. The seemingly normal mission suddenly goes terribly wrong as debris from a Russian satellite comes hurtling their way, destroying their shuttle and leaving Ryan free floating in space. She then must work together with Kowalski using the remaining communications system to try and get back to safety.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Gravity is one of the most visually breathtaking films to be released in a long time and certainly one you must see on the big-screen if at all possible. The bigger the screen the better, in fact. The result of literally years of technical development surrounding just how they were going to make this thing – new technology was actually invented to get around the problems of shooting long takes in zero-gravity environments, for example – it’s nothing short of magnificent to behold. Cuarón’s ballet-like utilization of the camera helps that feeling of immersion, while its use of 3D is completely justified (shock horror!) as it’s woven into the film to envelope you in this weightless, dangerous world outside our own. It often conjures up the feeling that you’re actually falling into the screen. Just think about that for a second; how many films – those that strive for spectacle and the wow factor at any rate – can you truly say has that sort of effect? Gravity stands out from the pack in an age when big-budget is king in Hollywood.
Cuarón also makes exquisite use of sound or, at times, lack thereof. The stunning score by Steven Price (The World’s End, Attack the Block) accentuates that feeling of impending doom that repeatedly ramps up the tension throughout, while extended moments of silence filling the beautifully sparse and endless environment provides a simultaneous sense of awe and fear. Space is very much like a character in and of itself; there’s no big bad alien villain here but the environment is presented like a monster without a face.
However, this isn’t just a vacuous visual spectacle – Cuarón has achieved a nail-biting, seat-clawing, heart-pounding series of thrills that escalate to almost unbearable tension at times, hurtling along at a swift pace towards the end of its surprisingly short 90 minute runtime. It doesn’t waste any time but also doesn’t rush things, achieving that Goldilocks runtime that few other films ever manage.
For all its technical wizardry, though, Gravity is actually a very straightforward film and therein lies the relatablity and beauty of why it works so well. Although it features the requisite scientific jargon to make a believable space movie, it doesn’t over complicate the plot with them, drawing you into this very human story of scary survival. Attempting to anchor the film emotionally could have come off as mawkish or overly sentimental but it’s handled with genuine conviction and authenticity in a way that allows the audience to grab onto the human aspect just as the film throws us into a physical cinematic experience.
This balance is largely achieved thanks to Bullock’s central performance, who really carries the emotional weight of the film on her shoulders. Despite Clooney’s voice coming over the communications, helping her to stay calm in these most dire of situations, it’s basically a one-woman show; in the hands of a lesser actress it wouldn’t have worked and she should rightly nab herself an Oscar nomination come that time.
Gravity doesn’t ever achieve the sort of level of ideas or intellectual profundity of something like 2001: A Space Odyssey, of which it bears more than a passing resemblance, but neither does it aim for that kind of loftiness. Nevertheless it provides a layer of humanity underneath the spectacle as it deals with themes of human connection, motherhood and people’s amazing ability to fight for survival against even the most adverse of environments. Ultimately it’s a stunningly achieved tension-filled experience of the sort that just doesn’t come along that often. It really throws you feet first into a terrifyingly believable situation that makes you wonder “what would I do?” The technical mastery on display, Bullock’s fantastic performance, Steven Price’s powerful musical score and much, much more all add up to make for one of the year’s absolute best films.
[youtube id=”OiTiKOy59o4″ width=”600″ height=”350″]