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Review: ‘Gravity’

Lost In Space And Feeling The Pull Of Oscar

Above: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock star in "Gravity."

As we head into Oscar season a film named “Gravity” (opening October 4 throughout San Diego) sounds exactly like what Academy voters will be looking for.

“Gravity” has the kind of weight and soberness that is appealing to audiences emerging from the airy popcorn days of summer. It refers not only to the natural force of attraction exerted by Earth upon objects on its surface that the main character longs for but also to the serious nature of the cinematic endeavor. It’s an elegantly simple premise: follow the fate of two astronauts trying to make it back to Earth after a disaster in space leaves them in desperate circumstances.

Filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón directed the film from a script he co-wrote with his son Jonás. Perhaps their familial relationship helped lend the film its intense sense of intimacy. What the film succeeds in doing is placing us in space with the astronauts and making us experience their environment in such a way that we get short of breath as their air runs out and feel the terror of seeing debris racing towards you at lethal speeds. Cuarón uses the classic dynamics of a survival film to wrap us up in its straightforward, linear narrative. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) need to get from point A (space) to point B (Earth), a simple equation complicated to breathtaking degree by the fact that they are out in space.

“Gravity” is economic in its storytelling, taking a tight 90 minutes to wrap up its tale. Cuarón knows how to amp up the tension while building empathy for his characters. He also employs the 3D well. It’s not always apparent but he employs it at moments of literally maximum impact. It does what 3D should do – to enhance the experience and the immediacy of the story. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who contributed brilliantly to Terence Malick’s “The New World” and “Tree of Life”) gives us a vividly crisp and clear view of space capturing both a sense of awe and terror. He’s ably aided by visual effect supervisor Timothy Webber and the sound design team.

Bullock and Clooney are appealing stars and their presence assures a larger box office for what is essentially an art house sci-fi thriller. I do wonder what it might have been like with actors rather than stars cast in the roles but that’s a relatively minor complaint in an otherwise superbly executed film.

“Gravity” (rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language) is what cinema at its best should be – an experience that makes you grip the armrests tightly and slide to the edge of your seat as you become completely consumed by the story on the screen.

Companion viewing: “Moon,” “Silent Running,” “2001: A Space Odyssey

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 5, 2013 at 11:33 p.m. ― 11 months, 2 weeks ago

I thought there was no sound in space. Did the Cuarons not do their research? At least the original ALIEN tagline had it right: "in space no one can hear you scream."

Do Bullock and Clooney get to ad lib political editorializing?

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Avatar for user 'Justin Roberts'

Justin Roberts | November 3, 2013 at 6:13 a.m. ― 10 months, 2 weeks ago

@Missionaccomplished: There are, in fact, a couple small references to that very point you brought up, and they appear at various points throughout the film. And I feel, in the case of this film in particular, I should mention I'm not at all someone who would consider himself a fan of mainstream films--I think the vast majority of them are "dumbed down" to the point where nearly every last ounce of entertainment value has been stripped from the original idea. That being said, you should know that I THOROUGHLY enjoyed "Gravity"--so much so that I actually ended up seeing it in the theater a 2nd time. I highly recommend seeing this film in the 3D format. Some--no, MOST of the 3D cinematography that is utilized in "Gravity" far exceeds anything I've ever seen. I never expected to enjoy this film nearly as much---not even half as much---as I did. Do yourself a favor, @Missionaccomplished, and see this film in theaters before you miss your chance to do so! I think you'll be happily surprised :)

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 3, 2013 at 10:15 a.m. ― 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Thanks, Justin, I actually have seen it twice already. The special visual and sound effects are marvelous without that now customary sensory-overload (IRON MAN 3, THE WOLVERINE). And yes, the film made an effort to have sound only in interior scenes or through radio transmisisons when floating in space. Cuaron did an excellent job in directing, and Bullock was very good (not so much for Clooney). Too bad the script didn't make us care more about the characters early on before disaster struck. A 91-minute running time tells me the script was pretty slim: maybe 85 pages or so.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 3, 2013 at 10:16 a.m. ― 10 months, 2 weeks ago

Also, the best music score since Horner's AMAZING SPIDER MAN.

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Avatar for user 'Justin Roberts'

Justin Roberts | November 3, 2013 at 9:20 p.m. ― 10 months, 2 weeks ago

I LOVE that you've seen it twice already! :-D And I completely agree with your interpretation of Bullock's and Clooney's respective performances. I'm fully expecting Bullock to be nominated for a small handful of awards stemming from that film, but I'd be utterly surprised if Clooney receives even one accolade for his sub-par performance.

I'm also pleased to learn you and I share the same appreciation for this film's score. It was PERFECT!

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