Published on October 4th, 2013 | by gareth0
We’ve long been spoiled by depictions of space in most science fiction, or at least in popular science fiction. A frontier, a futuristic ocean of sorts for maritime-type traversal. It’s hardly ever depicted as a particularly dangerous place. That’s exactly why Alfanso Cuaron’s Gravity is so incredibly refreshing and surprisingly so at that. All he really had to do was set out to depict a story in space that highlights how dangerous it really is. And boy does he succeed. Gravity is not only intriguing in its science, but also an incredibly gripping thriller.
The premise is focused and simple for the betterment of the film. Sandra Bullock plays Ryan Stone, a scientist who is on her first space walk installing new components onto the Hubble telescope. She is accompanied by George Clooney’s character, Kowalski, an experienced astronaut who’s calm in crisis helps guide the frightened Bullock through the following events. A massive accident leaves the characters stranded in space with no way home, periled by the hazards that go with being stuck in the abyss.
At its core, Gravity is a survival thriller movie. There is no villain other than the environment, no schemes or whacky plot twists. It’s reminiscent of a film like Cast Away, albeit quicker in pace because survival is more immediately at stake. The film takes so much into account, impressively, about the kinds of hazards one might face in a crisis that leaves them stuck in orbit. Oxygen, debris, structural damage, even how objects interact with one another or move in zero gravity. Most films in space neglect the ‘no sound in space’ rule, largely because of how awkward it would be to watch a Star Wars battle with no sound. But this film follows the rule, for the most part, and just that tiny detail alone adds so much to the anxiety of the situation. Watching speeding debris silently obliterate an entire space station while only hearing the internal suit audio of the protagonist might be the most frightening and memorable moments of any science fiction thriller I have seen in years.
Alfonso Cuaron is no stranger to striking imagery and near masterful shooting of important scenes. He has done so in his previous works, like Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He does so again through the action in Gravity. Although I will say a few visual metaphors in Gravity are a bit heavy handed in how they refer to the back story of the protagonist; yet nevertheless they end up having quite an impact despite arguable cheesiness.
The two leads do great in their roles; not hugely surprising considering Clooney and Bullock are established actors with great works under their belts. But at the same time both characters are light in their characterization, perhaps even ‘one-note’, particularly the case for Clooney. I do not necessarily think this is a bad thing, because it keeps the action of the film focused on the survival and the intensity of the situation. But, when those quieter scenes come by to pad the action, leaving the characters to mingle, I can’t help but feel like the drama is a little forced. There to give the audience someone to care about and desire to not die in space, and only for that purpose. Even if it’s forced, the personal struggle of Bullock’s character is admittedly compelling and you do want to see her make it out alive. Both the writing an acting for her character do an excellent job portraying her as someone overcoming an extremely difficult situation that she’s ill-equipped to deal with.
I’m not usually a fan of 3D, I think it’s often distracting and gimmicky. But this is one film that the 3D effect soars in. In the non-action moments it is nearly unnoticeable. And in those sequences where vessels are exploding spectacularly, space debris splintering in every direction, the 3D effect adds an extra layer of chaos and intensity around the characters’ fate. I seldom recommend going to see a film in 3D, but this is one I thoroughly recommend doing so.
Gravity is a pure focused thriller that tackles an environment so rich with possibility for great survival storytelling. Forget all the safe depictions of space like Star Wars and Star Trek, because this will make you as frightened of being stuck in space as Jaws did of being out in open water. It’s not perfect, certainly, as its drama ultimately draws too much attention to itself as a device of the plot, feeling a bit forced. Nevertheless, the superb acting on the parts of both leads ends up overcoming the potential shallowness of the characterization and makes you care about their survival – an absolute necessity in a film like this. The situations dealt with not only feel realistic, but are so excellently shot that the intensity is simply stunning.