Originally published by MCM Buzz on the 7th of November 2013
Gravity begins in the way every film should, with a list of simple facts about space. Most of this information is already common knowledge, but if you don’t work for NASA and are not a physicist, these things are never dwelled on for too long. The brainchild of director and co-writer, Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), alongside his son Jonas, this dazzling shuttle ride starts as it means to go on, emphasising the very real and rarely explored fact that space is an abyss of deadly silence. The last fact about the final frontier reads “Life in space is impossible”, and this wonderfully dizzying, brilliantly executed, unfathomably beautiful film truly puts that to the test.
The story sees innovative medical engineer and first-time astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) sent out to install her device to the Hubble Space Telescope, under the command of easy-going space veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). After the destruction of a satellite orbiting Earth causes debris to scatter and pick up pace, shooting around the planet with rapidly increasing speed and ferocity, their shuttle is destroyed and the two are left in the staggeringly stunning void, fighting to survive in the dark.
From the very first sequence, Gravity asserts itself as a major player in the world of film with one of the most dazzling, disorienting and rousing scenes in cinema, certainly in the last few years. In one gloriously extended shot Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki introduce the characters, perfectly capture their personalities and demonstrate an entirely new method of technical filmmaking all while showing just how intoxicatingly beautiful space itself can be. Even when the setting becomes the deadliest place on the planet it is never in question that this deadly force is simply breathtaking, from the beginning Cuarón creates a sense of awe that just doesn’t go away. Danger really has never been so astonishingly gorgeous.
The pace picks up immensely along with the shuttle debris, and because of the inconceivably fluid direction, convincing performances and state of the art special effects, it’s impossible not to be swept away with it. The action is so fast and well executed that Gravity really does pull you in. There is something of a balance in the action sequences, with the intense speed at which everything is shooting across the screen you only find your feet when the camera does, which creates this terribly exciting feeling of being hurled into space and laid at the mercy of the film. After a barrage of entertaining stasis, silent dread and lightning fast action this film is powerfully and brilliantly unpredictable when it comes to pacing. In the scenes where shrapnel is on the horizon, even in the zero gravity conditions, you could hear a pin drop. In fact the film as a whole is continuously surprising and refreshing in an industry becoming ever-crammed with remakes, sequels and re-imaginings. Here it is inspiring to simply see an imagining.
The back and forth between Clooney and Bullock is nothing short of sublime. The amiable, free-spirited Kowalski is perfectly matched for the sceptical, wounded Dr. Stone and it is truly interesting to see their very different reactions to the hopelessness threatening to engulf them. As the two bounce off each other both verbally and, at times, literally, their dynamic makes for a complex and touching relationship in the nothingness of space. The film is as much about the two characters interactions as it is about the disaster surrounding them. Clooney has his charm levels set to maximum as he captivates the audience and manages to be a strong and guiding force before the first sequence has even finished. Bullock is expertly cast and succeeds in portraying the troubled engineer’s vulnerability, but is also versatile enough to handle the impossibly broad spectrum of emotion explored in this terrifying, enthralling and often sensitive journey.
The soundtrack is powerfully understated, really bringing to the fore the contrast that is constant in the film between silent beauty and subtle emotion, and with it an eerie and malevolent darkness when disaster strikes. The sound itself is an integral part of the film for the very same reason, there is no sound in space, and so when it is present it has a staggering impact that feels so heightened. Everything about this film feels right and remains in keeping with the rest of its parts, it would not be a stretch to say that Gravity exhibits a masterclass in tone. But even without the acting, the direction or the effects, Gravity succeeds first as a film about life, and not simply on a physical level. The film sees Dr. Stone undergo a life-changing transformation that focuses on the value of a life, and why it is a very part of human nature to fight for our lives even when hope is entirely lost, creating a film that is both rare and immensely moving.
Gravity is visually stunning and wonderfully written with a layered plot, likeable characters and technically revolutionary camera work and visual effects. One thing that has to be noted is that whilst being all these things it remains to be a completely engaging thrill ride that has never been done before in quite the same way. From the initial idea to the cutting room Gravity succeeds in releasing a breath of fresh air into the vastness of space. If you are a seasoned space-veteran or a rookie astronaut, this film has something for you; it captures a glimpse of humanity where there is none, and how it gets there is one hell of a story.
All images are courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.