I remember being fascinated and terrified by outer space movies when I was a young boy. Seriously, I kept getting vertigo when I saw all those stars shining brightly to where I was afraid I would fall into space and be lost forever. Of course, back then I still had a lot to learn about gravity. It’s been a long time since an outer space movie gave me that kind of sensation. The last one was Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” which, when it came out in 1995, was perhaps the most realistic motion picture about life in space and how dangerous it can be. But now that sensation has come back in an exhilarating rush with Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” which may very well be the greatest movie about life in space that I have ever seen.
“Gravity” is an amazing movie, just amazing. It left me speechless with its amazing visual effects and the tour de force performances from George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, and it made me feel like I was right up there in outer space with the two of them. The movie opens with the following:
At 372 miles above the Earth
There is nothing to carry sound
No air pressure
Life in space is impossible
For 90 minutes, Cuarón never lets you forget that as we watch astronauts Matt Kowalski (Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) struggle to survive after their space shuttle is destroyed by debris from a satellite. From there they are floating in space with little oxygen and very few options. It may sound like a thin plot for a movie, but it’s more than enough to make “Gravity” one of the most nail biting films to sit through in some time.
I almost don’t want to know how the special effects were accomplished for fear that the film’s magic will forever be ruined for me. In a year that has not seen many great films, “Gravity” reminds you of how great going to the movies can be as it sucks you right in to a world many of us have never seen up close. Cuarón shows the inherent dangers of space as well as the sheer beauty of it, and there’s no beating the view of planet Earth from hundreds of miles above its surface.
Cuarón, just as he did with “Children of Men,” gives us some truly brilliant scenes which look like they were all done in one shot. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how he managed to keep the camera rolling for such a long period of time. “Gravity” starts in space and pretty much ends there, and it’s that lack of gravity which makes the film seem like a new kind of roller coaster ride. I bet that a number of audience members will end up getting motion sickness while watching it as they’ll be struggling to find their center of balance just like Bullock does when she becomes untethered from the space shuttle. I remember all those trailers for horror movies like “Dawn of the Dead” which said that the theater did have barf bags available for those who needed them. Well “Gravity” is proof that it doesn’t have to be a horror movie for you to need a barf bag. Anyway, that’s probably more information than you need to know.
But as technically brilliant as “Gravity” is, it never forgets the human element that other filmmakers don’t pay as much attention to. We come to care deeply about the characters Clooney and Bullock play because they are not just a couple of stereotypical astronauts spouting clichéd dialogue. They are flesh and blood human beings with needs and desires, and they need each other to get to safety. Seeing them tumble through space will make you appreciate the brakes you have on your car.
Clooney rarely (if ever) lets us down as an actor, and he is perfectly cast as the veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski. He is very believable in this role and you immediately get the sense that Matt has been to outer space countless times without having to point it out. From start to finish, Clooney is the calm center in the middle of the storm and gives the movie the positive energy it needs. Even as things get worse, he gives Dr. Stone a reason to keep on going.
But when all is said and done, “Gravity” really belongs to Bullock. She may still wonder if she deserved her Oscar for “The Blind Side,” but after watching her here, it’s clear that she did and she may be getting another one come next March. Bullock gives the performance of her life as she reveals her character’s inner struggles that illustrate how there’s more going on with her than just trying to stay alive. The more we learn about Dr. Stone, the more we see that this is not so much a movie about a woman lost in space as much as it is a woman trying to escape the darkness that has engulfed her soul.
Bullock can just draw you into a scene with her eyes which easily reveal much of her character’s inner torment as her oxygen continues to run out. I’ve always admired her as an actress and her roles in “Demolition Man” and “Speed” showed her to be an unforgettable talent. In recent years we have seen her do what seems like an endless number of romantic comedies, so it feels rare to see her in such a dramatic film. But Bullock is so enthralling to watch here and there is not a single false note in her performance.
I don’t think it’s too much to say that Cuarón is a magician when it comes to making a movie. He gave us an enchanting childlike vision of the world with “A Little Princess,” a marvelous coming of age story with “Y Tu Mamá También,” the first truly great Harry Potter movie with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and one of the more unique dystopian science fiction movies of recent years with “Children of Men.” From one film to the next, he gives us astonishing illusions that have us in awe of what he can accomplish. Cuarón leaves you with a strong sense of wonder with “Gravity,” and that’s a quality seriously lacking in most movies coming out right now.
Cuarón is also aided tremendously by a strong creative team that includes his son Jonás who co-wrote the screenplay with him, Steven Price who composed the movie’s hypnotic score, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who makes space look as beautiful and inhospitable in equal measure, and David Heyman who makes this his first film as a producer outside of the “Harry Potter” franchise. All have come together to create something that redeems our collective hope in the possibility of cinema.
Seriously, don’t wait for this one on DVD, Blu-ray, On Demand, Netflix or whatever service you use to rent movies and watch them at home. “Gravity” demands to be seen in a movie theater and, yes I’m going to say it, in 3D. Few film going experiences this year have been as enthralling as this one and it is not to be missed. Thank you Alfonso for this film and reaffirming what can be accomplished in Hollywood today. But more importantly, thanks for creating a movie that gave me that sensation of being in outer space that I used to have as a child.
* * * * out of * * * *
Press Conference Interview with Sandra Bullock, Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron on ‘Gravity’
Great Movies that Take Place in Space
‘Moon’ – Sam Rockwell is Lost in Space