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Review: ‘Gravity’

Lost In Space And Feeling The Pull Of Oscar

Credit: Warner Brothers

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

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