Review – Gravity

It’s one small step for visual effects and one giant leap for cinema in Alfonso Cuarón’s extraordinary survival thriller where astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney have a very serious problem.

Gravity is nothing short of a game-changer and a fully immersive motion picture experience that raises the bar to dizzying new heights

Gravity is nothing short of a game-changer and a fully immersive motion picture experience that raises the bar to dizzying new heights

Not since 1995’s Apollo 13 has a film delivered the stomach-churning sense of what it must truly be like to be lost in space and have to rely on ingenuity and bravery to survive against all the odds.

The film’s overwhelming box office success is richly deserved recompense for the four years Cuarón spent bringing Gravity to the big screen.

Dr Ryan Stone on her first - and possibly last - shuttle mission in Gravity

Dr Ryan Stone on her first – and possibly last – shuttle mission in Gravity

Cuarón revealed himself to be a technical director par excellence in his under-appreciated 2006 dystopian sci-fi masterpiece Children Of Men and held out on making Gravity until visual effects technology had finally caught up with his vision for the film.

His, and our, patience has been rewarded as the film is nothing short of a game-changer and a fully immersive motion picture experience that raises the bar to dizzying new heights.

Grizzled veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) takes command in Gravity

Grizzled veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) takes command in Gravity

Gravity‘s plot is the highest of high concepts. Rookie astronaut Dr Ryan Stone (Bullock) and grizzled veteran Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are on a routine spacewalk to service the Hubble telescope when Mission Control (voiced by Apollo 13‘s Ed Harris) warns of a Russian missile strike on an out-of-service satellite that has caused a chain reaction of debris heading their way fast. Before they have time to properly react the debris tears through their shuttle, leaving them cut off from everything and everyone.

From the moment a shimmering Planet Earth majestically appears, swallowing the tiny shuttle that slowly becomes our focus, we’re putty in Cuarón’s hands. It’s a stunning opening shot, lasting about 15 minutes (Cuarón has also shown to be a past master in the art of the tracking shot too), that introduces us to the nervous Stone and relaxed and charismatic Kowalski before all hell breaks loose.

"Houston, we have a problem" in Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity

“Houston, we have a problem” in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity

We’ve grown so used as moviegoers to hearing sound effects for films set in space that the (scientifically accurate) silence of the shuttle being torn to pieces is actually more disconcerting and terrifying.

These sequences are Gravity‘s tour de force as the line between what is real and what is digitally rendered is almost completely removed. Rather than being some lazy 3-D device, the moment when pieces of debris fly towards the screen will have you flinching and ducking out the way, such is the all-consuming effect the film has on the senses.

The only sound we do hear, apart from Stone’s panicked panting, is Steven Price’s urgent and ominous score, which sounds like it’s been beamed in from another planet.

The terrifying moment when the void beckons in Gravity

The terrifying moment when the void beckons in Gravity

Another of the film’s strengths is to emphasise just how vulnerable and helpless we are when setting foot off our planet despite all of our technology. Stone and Kowalski spend much of their time desperately tethering themselves to chunks of metal or each other in a frantic effort to survive.

Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) reaches the relative safety of the International Space Station in Gravity

Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) reaches the relative safety of the International Space Station in Gravity

Bullock is on impressive form as the damaged Stone, who’s put through the wringer and must reach her lowest ebb before finally finding the emotional and physical strength to carry on. Although unsubtle, the scene when she makes it inside the womb of the International Space Station and huddles weightless in the foetal position (still tethered as if umbilically attached) may be an unsubtle metaphor for rebirth, but is a striking one nonetheless.

While Bullock brings an admirable range to her role, Clooney might as well be playing himself. It’s not necessarily the actor’s fault; Cuarón’s script, co-written with his son Jonás, provides the sort of dialogue that suggests it’s Clooney in orbit rather than Matt Kowalski. That said, I’ll take Clooney on autopilot over most other actors any day.

James Cameron, no stranger to sci-fi, has called Gravity “the best space film ever done”. Although there’s stiff competition for that particular accolade, such high praise is justified for a film that sets a new benchmark in what cinema is visually capable of.

Advertisements

29 comments

  1. le0pard13 · November 16, 2013

    We’re in total agreement. Wonderful review.

  2. CMrok93 · November 16, 2013

    Good review. I can’t say I loved the hell out of this one, but the look, sound and direction of it, really makes it feel like something else you won’t see this year.

    • Three Rows Back · November 16, 2013

      Appreciate it Dan. I’m a real sucker for this sort of thing; it’s cinema in its rawest form in my book and I loved it.

  3. jjames36 · November 17, 2013

    Great review. Completely agreed.

    Score, performance, aesthetic, audio design, etc, all combine to make one very memorable movie.

    • Three Rows Back · November 17, 2013

      Absolutely. Glad to see you agree; thanks for the kind words.

  4. Chris · November 17, 2013

    Great review, and totally agree with you here. Certainly a terrific movie, and a technical masterpiece. 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · November 17, 2013

      Thanks man. What impressed me was that the visual effects didn’t get in the way of what was an absorbing story.

  5. Tom · November 17, 2013

    Hell. Yes.

    Excellent review Mark, you set a new standard for being able to make me drool over this one all over again. God I loved it. The only thing that does concern me, is how it will play out on a much smaller screen. I wonder how good it will still be watching it on this computer. Maybe it’ll be awesome. Cuaron’s a genius.

    • Three Rows Back · November 17, 2013

      Ha ha; thanks Tom! It’s going to be tough to decide on what my favourite film of the year is after watching this. It truly lived up to all my expectations – cinema on its purest form. I hear what you’re saying about watching it on a smaller screen; I have the same concern.

  6. table9mutant · November 17, 2013

    Yep! Agree. So glad I finally saw this and that it lived up to the hype. Good review. 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · November 17, 2013

      Muchos gracias. It absolutely lived up to all my expectations and then some.

  7. Popcorn Nights · November 17, 2013

    Nice review – good to see that someone finally has enjoyed this film, I’ve never seen anything get such a critical panning ;o)
    In complete agreement with you!

    • Three Rows Back · November 18, 2013

      Thank you! Glad to see you got a big kick out of it too.

  8. beautifulorange · November 18, 2013

    Great write-up – even if I don’t completely agree! It was truly stunning to look at and made 3D finally worthwhile in a film, Bullock was very, very good, and there were times where it was completely gripping. But… some of the dialogue was awful, Clooney was horribly mis-cast, and the repetitive way in which Bullock was continually put in danger became tiresome by the end. I enjoyed the film – but just because it’s groundbreaking, I didn’t feel it was worth all the hype.

    • Three Rows Back · November 18, 2013

      Much appreciated. I can’t disagree about some of the dialogue; clunky is a good word I think! If you break it down, it is set piece, followed by some philosophising, followed by set piece. But boy what set pieces.

  9. ckckred · November 18, 2013

    Nice review. I agree, it was an amazing movie and one I hope to watch again. Cuaron’s direction was amazing, particularly with the tracking shots.

    • Three Rows Back · November 18, 2013

      Thanks man. I could do with catching this again just to check it’s as good second time around.

  10. Mark Walker · November 18, 2013

    Nice to see another glowing review of this one, Mark. I’m hoping to see it this week at some point. It’s not one I want to miss.

    • Three Rows Back · November 18, 2013

      I think you might like it Mark; looking forward to your write-up.

  11. theipc · November 18, 2013

    Gravity is EXCELLENT!! Great post!

    • Three Rows Back · November 18, 2013

      Ha ha! Thanks man. Couldn’t say it better myself!

      • theipc · November 18, 2013

        : )

  12. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · November 20, 2013

    Glad you liked it mate, sounds like we’re on the same page here. Visually it’s unbelievable, one of the best films I’ve seen in that respect. And bang on about Clooney – he’s just being Clooney, which is fine I guess but I doubt someone doing a massively dangerous space walk would be throwing quips left, right and centre.

    • Three Rows Back · November 20, 2013

      I’ve only seen a handful of 3D films as the format does nothing for me, but I can’t imagine watching this in any other format. My worry is that it will lose a great deal of impact on the small screen. Really glad you liked it too Chris.

  13. vinnieh · January 2, 2015

    Nice review, I’m finally going to watch this one soon. I was busy when it originally came out in cinemas, but I’ve always been curious about it.

    • Three Rows Back · January 2, 2015

      Better late than never Vic!

      • vinnieh · January 10, 2015

        Watched it last night and was blown away by it. I’m definitely gonna review this film.

      • vinnieh · January 18, 2015

        Thanks for reminding me to see this film, have you checked out my review yet?

Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s