Review: Gravity / Cert: 12A / Director: Alfonso Cuarón / Screenplay: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón / Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris / Release date: November 8th
A routine maintenance mission to the Hubble telescope aboard the shuttle Explorer ends in disaster for a crew of astronauts, including newbie Ryan Stone (Bullock) and old hand Matt Kowalski (Clooney), when debris from a disintegrating Russian satellite intersects their orbit. Travelling at thousands of miles per hour, this wreckage can tear them and their spacecraft apart. This much has been known since the first trailer for Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity was released, and to share more of the plot would do a grave disservice to one of the finest cinema experiences of recent times.
Far from the sedate pace suggested by the synopsis of “astronauts adrift”, Cuarón has fashioned a realistic, space-based, action thriller utilising a dizzying array of technical and human tools to capture both the potential horror and frequent beauty of life in space. The mix of CG, actors and the use of the space around them, is simply stunning. At times the camera effortlessly floats around people and objects, fluidly switching focus from one subject to another, matching their velocity and rotation in space, before swinging around them to take in some new subject and head off towards it. This is often accompanied by a maelstrom of fragments spinning through the frame, from the distant background to an uncomfortably close foreground in 3D. Gravity is a marvel of modern filmmaking.
After the initial impact, everyone and everything yo-yos around each other as inertia takes hold, every jerk and collision jangling the nerves. Sometimes Gravity can seem like a peculiar horror movie where the enemy is a lack of friction as characters have nothing to stop themselves from spinning in space, never mind attempting to save themselves. This dread is ratcheted to almost unbearable levels by an excellent score by Stephen Price (Attack the Block, The World’s End), with faint synths growing to electronic snarls as danger approaches, reaching a crescendo during the most tension-filled scenes of the film, putting the audience through the wringer along with the crew.
That’s not to say that the film is completely relentless. Long, intense action scenes, many seemingly shot in one take, are mixed with moments of almost silent panic and sedate contemplation; all working together to keep the eye from becoming bored or “lost in space”. Likewise the technological wizardry on display does not overwhelm the story; instead it serves to elevate a relatively simple tale of the human drive to survive to something quite astounding.
Bullock’s performance carries the whole movie, no mean feat considering she has to swing from abject terror to fierce determination, her face filling almost the entirety of the IMAX screen in some scenes, while in others only her voice can be heard as she diminishes to a tiny speck against a blanket of stars. Clooney, as the veteran astronaut, is reduced to unflappable yet charismatic support, delivering a reliable performance while apparently striving for the title of most charming astronaut ever.
Demand for the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release is sure to be high, if only for the featurettes, as it’s unclear upon first viewing how Cuarón made the film without actually going into space, but Gravity demands to be seen in IMAX 3D. From Clooney reaching into the 3D foreground to grab a loose screw, to the emptiness of space, to the immensity of Earth looming in the background over an out-of-control crew member, the visuals are frequently distressingly effective. The actors and the effects combine to highlight the magnitude of the characters' situation and just how minuscule their chances of survival are.
James Cameron has stated that Gravity has “the best space photography ever done, I think it's the best space film ever done”. He’s not wrong and it’s not just down to the effects. The performances and the emotions at the heart of Gravity are what raise it to that status.
Expected Rating: 8 out of 10