Your preconceived notions that Gravity will make your heart leap out of your chest and your stomach lurch are right on the money.
The disorienting sci-fi separates the weak from the willing with its prolonged, wandering introduction to the team aboard the Explorer. We see mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (played by Sandra Bullock) hard at work while astronaut/commander Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney) supervises.
The operation is going as planned when suddenly mission control orders the team to abort. A missile attack blowing up a satellite has caused an array of debris to soar at random towards the Explorer.
As you may have seen from the film’s intense trailer, catastrophe breaks out sending Stone spinning towards the stars. This may be her first space shuttle mission, but she’ll have to fight to survive.
Alfonso Cuarón succeeds in droves with throwing the audience into the shallow atmosphere. I caught Gravity in IMAX 3D and thought I would float out from my seat at any moment. It’s got the intentions and spectacles of a big budget blockbuster and the intimate detachment of a NASA simulator.
The one particularly disarming yet radically suffocating attribute about Gravity is its sound design. As we all know, “in space, no one can hear you scream”. When explosions occur and shrapnel is flinging towards Dr. Stone, everything sounds purposely muddled – as if we’re underwater. All these climactic extreme measures speak volumes about how they’ve been perfectly constructed using excellent visual effects.
There are a lot of close calls and even a few moments where you believe Dr. Stone has a hidden four-leaf clover hidden away in her tank top because of how many times death almost has her in its grip. However, we’re all too busy feeling as frantic as she is. Bullock does a great job depicting those feelings of trying to keep faith while feeling mass amounts of anxiety. As she scrambles for things to latch on to, Gravity completely becomes a visceral movie going experience.
There’s a “but”, however. More than a couple, I’m afraid.
Alfonso Cuarón and his thriller may be able to flawlessly plunk audiences in the depths of space, but the film has a difficult time gripping us with its story and its writing.
Cuarón is a talented filmmaker, which is why its somewhat disappointment to see his script (to which he co-wrote with his son, Jonás) lean on the “family card” too often. In order to create a connection to the crew members, the Cuarón’s remind audiences that these characters have/had family on Earth that keeps them fighting through the tough circumstances.
This mode of writing isn’t used as a cheap screenwriting mechanic, but it’s too easy of a device to use in order to pull emotions from movie goers.
Alfonso Cuarón also tries to input symbolic images about rebirth and evolution amongst the chaos to show his film has a subtext during the action. These instances – such as Bullock floating in the fetal position like a newborn and the film’s final moments – were a bit too obvious for my taste.
Speaking of obvious, casting George Clooney as a smooth, charismatic wisecracker isn’t too much of a stretch for the actor. And, the production doesn’t make an effort to make him unrecognizable.
Though we can buy Bullock’s performance, we always see Matt Kowalski as Danny Ocean zipping around on a jetpack in space. When we hear his voice over Bullock’s radio, his presence is a bit more incognito, but the role really should’ve gone to someone who can easily disappear within a role while keeping up with a snappy personality. My suggestions: Jeffrey Dean Morgan or J.K. Simmons.
The frantic buoyancy and stylized urgency on screen – including a cheer worthy performance by Bullock – makes Alfonso Cuarón’s film a must-watch in theatres this Fall. Just expect the substance behind Gravity to be as weightless as its subjects.