‘Gravity’ review: An ode to cinema

Posted: October 9, 2013 in Movies, Reviews

With the economy in the crapper, a flux in terrible films, and rising ticket prices – there’s not a whole lot of good reasons to go to the movie theaters these days.  However, once every blue moon there comes along a film that is so well done, so mesmerizing, so beautiful – in the literal sense – that the only place it can be seen is on the big screen.  Gravity is that film.  An ode to traditional cinema, back to an age where films made you believe you were transported to the locale.  Gravity is beautiful, capturing, chilling, scary, and lonely – all rolled into one.  It’s the perfect film.  And the first place you should see it is on a screen so big you feel as if you were in space yourself.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, a film about two astronauts stranded in space after a shuttle mission gone wrong, is shot with impeccable direction and artful movement.  It’s Cuaron’s attention to detail – no matter how minor – that really make the film worth seeing.  Make no mistake, the star of the film is Sandra Bullock’s character – mission specialist Dr. Ryan Stone – but Cuaron behind the camera steals the show.

The film starts off with nearly 10 minutes of straight shot, meaning you’re seeing 10 minutes of straight footage, no editing, no splicing just footage.  And it’s the first 10 minutes that set the tone for the rest of the film.  We’re briefly introduced to Bullock’s character, who is on her first spacewalk attempting to fix the Hubble telescope and George Clooney’s character – mission commander Lt. Matt Kowalski – who is on his final space flight before retirement and is attempting to break the record for longest spacewalk.  It’s a three man job, but we’re never introduced to the third astronaut before things go completely wrong.  A Russian satellite is blown up by a missile sending debris into orbit and heading straight for the space crew.  Next thing you know the debris is traveling at ten times the speed of a bullet and destroys the shuttle and sends Stone spinning out of control – untethered – into space.  The only survivors are Stone and Kowalski and the rest of the film, which clocks in at a superior running time of only one hour and thirty minutes.

One of the film’s most intricate moments comes with Stone’s character spinning out of control into space with Clooney talking to her through her earpiece telling her she needs to calm down and tell him her coordinates.  It’s an overwhelming task for someone on their first spacewalk but Bullock handles the character with such ease and fluid movements its as if we’re never really sure if her character is going to make it but we have faith.  By the time the film reaches the halfway point, your blood pressure will probably already be on the rise.  That’s Cuaron’s point.  He wants the audience to feel like they are there, that they are the same survival mission as Stone and Kowalski.  He succeeds over and over and over, almost to the point where you don’t want to participate in trying to survive anymore.  You’re as tired as the characters, your will has already been tested more than you thought possible (for a movie).  It’s the first time I’ve ever wanted to give up on a movie for a character – and that’s a magical thing when discussing cinema.

We’ve always been taught that movies are meant to take you away from your everyday worries and teleport you to a time and place that only in your mind is possible.  Well, now we can say that film has succeeded.  Gravity is a throw back film with state-of-the-art visuals and cinematography.  It’s the first film I’ve seen since James Cameron’s Avatar (and James Cameron wishes he could have directed a film this good with all of his nifty film gadgets) that completely revolutionizes the use of 3D technology.  There are no three dimensional gimmicks in Gravity, just visual enhancers that make you more apart of the film than without them.  It’s really the only to see the movie in a theater.

The film, in all of its glory, has its flaws (besides some realism inconsistencies – I’ll never hold a film accountable for that) such as the cheesy dialogue that goes on throughout.  Did George Clooney’s character really have to be written as George Clooney playing Matt Kowalski playing George Clooney?   How come we didn’t get more of a backstory to Ryan Stone’s motivation for isolation?  We’re told she once had a daughter but she died unexpectedly – “I had a daughter once, she died.  She was playing at school, fell and hit her head, and that was it.  Stupidest thing ever.”  I’m pretty sure I got that quote right, but really?  The way Bullock expresses the sentiment, it makes it seem like it was just another thing to her.  Maybe that’s the point.  Maybe Stone is so over life that she’s just “spacewalking” through it hoping she’ll one day get to see her daughter again.  The way the scene is written gave me a bad taste in my mouth because Stone later pulls emotions for her daughter’s passing as motivation to survive.   It’s a conflicted script point, but minor in the grand scheme of things.

We’re never told the complete backstory to the characters, but really, it’s not needed.  They are astronauts for crying out loud.  We don’t need to know how they know how to do something, they wouldn’t be in space if they didn’t know how to pilot an escape pod.  Kowalski isn’t in the film enough for a backstory.  It’s Bullock’s film and she makes the most out of it.

Gravity is the first heavy Academy Award contender – for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress – all of which I expect nominations for.  It’s a beautiful scary film in which you should pay the $20 to see in an IMAX 3D theater, because you owe it to films of generations past that inspired it.

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