It’s been seven years since visionary director Alfonso Cuarón’s last film, the impressive Children of Men. The wait has been worth it, as Gravity provides us with a cinematic experience that is unsurpassed.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney play nervous rookie astronaut Dr Ryan Stone and seasoned pro Matt Kowalsky, whose work on the Hubble Space Telescope is violently interrupted by a catastrophic debris collision. Cut off from ground communications and drifting in space, their only hope lies in making it to the International Space Station before Stone’s air supply runs out.
This simplest of stories—survival in space - in the hands of director Alfonso Cuarón—is anything but simple. It is compelling, engrossing and nerve-wracking, and every minute is immersive and believable. Nothing can compete with the vastness and deadliness of space as Cuarón portrays it, which makes Gravity an overwhelming physical experience. Not since 2001: A Space Odyssey has a film so fully communicated the absoluteness of space, its impossible vastness, its obliterating void.
Cuarón’s famous use of long shots is legendary and Gravity opens with a 13-minute single-take long shot that is mind blowing. We arrive in the forever-night of outer space, dominated by the vast blue-grey nimbus of Earth’s curvature, cloud formations silently spiralling across the surface in tiny, leisurely movements. It’s a jaw-dropping view from God’s balcony, with CGI so good it doesn’t resemble CGI. Earth will remain a constant and literal pull of home. Meanwhile, as a tiny speck in the foreground slowly takes shape into the Space shuttle, the breathy, scratchy transmissions of spacesuit intercoms break into the church-like hush. It’s wondrous.
The look of this film is breath-taking. We get an unparalleled 3D depiction of what it must feel like to be way up there, circumnavigating the globe. And of what might happen when satellite wreckage smashes everything in its path, propelling Stone and Kowalski into the void. But Gravity also does smaller wondrous things, like take us from the eerie silence outside Stone's space helmet to her anxiety within. Or showing us how crying in zero gravity produces tears that just float away. The visual combination of 3D immersiveness and weightlessness is something to behold.
So, while Gravity has elements of Kubrickian grandeur to match its paradigm-shifting ambition, Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki extended their post-production to push the envelope of their vision, and the film is all the more extraordinary for it. In addition, Steven Price’s hypnotic and vertigo-inducing score adds another dynamic to the film.
Cuarón wanted to make this film years ago, but was prevented from doing so by a lack of technology. So, he took it upon himself to create what he needed. In doing so, he may have set the bar for any future sci-fi or 3D film. Gravity is as ground-breaking in its use of technology as The Matrix was. It’s the kind of filmmaking that leaves you shaking your head in sheer wonder. A marvel of filmmaking, it is a testament to what can be achieved when modern technologies are set the challenge of putting the audience at the absolute centre of the most extreme jeopardy imaginable: to be adrift in space.
But what makes this film truly great is the story and Bullock’s wonderfully relatable connection, in what is the performance of her career.
Tenderly, Cuarón makes Stone an ‘everyman’. Watching her character struggle to save and be saved is like watching one’s self go through the same traumatic ordeal. Bullock’s deeply moving struggle to survive reaches into the very questions at the core of our existence: Who am I? Do I matter? Am I important to someone? Would I be missed? This movie is about the mysterious overlap of survival and rebirth that is a part of everyone’s every day, but accentuated when one is faced with their imminent demise.
Yes, Gravity is a story about our sheer, dogged insistence to stay alive, but it is much more than that. No matter how complex and awe-inspiring this film’s execution, Cuarón’s primary mission is to celebrate the beautiful phenomenon of life and creation.
Gravity deserves to be seen in 3D on the biggest screen you can find. It’s a game-changer, a towering achievement in cinema, a beautiful piece of art, and an experience unlike any other.
Review by Martin Barratt
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Thriller
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Rating: M (language, intense scenes)
Run time: 1 hr 33 mins