I'm not a big proponent of 3D. I try to avoid it like the plague, but
there is only one multiplex within 50 miles of where I live and the only
screenings of this film are in 3D, so I had no choice but to watch it
with the glasses. That being said, I'm glad I did. Co-writer and
director Alfonso Cuarón makes excellent use of 3D imagery. The use of
depth here is sheer phenomenal. Yes, there's the gimmick of having
objects fly toward the viewer's eye, but because the setting is outer
space and zero gravity, Cuarón has the added advantage of not being
limited, he can float anything in front of us and his choices of what he
puts on the three-dimensional axis is clever, beautiful, funny or
Sandra Bullock stars as Ryan Stone, a doctor who is chosen by NASA to help install new technology that originally had medical purposes on the Hubble telescope. George Clooney co-stars as Matt Kowalski, a lieutenant at NASA and pilot of the Explorer space shuttle that shepherds Ryan to the telescope. The movie opens with them already in space and Ryan working on the telescope.
The Russians destroy a decommissioned satellite and at first NASA thinks Ryan and crew are safe, but the debris from the explosion comes hurtling at the Explorer, damaging it severely. The debris also hits the Hubble where Ryan is connected. The debris sends the Hubble flying every which way, pulling Ryan along with it. She has to detach in order to save herself, but the momentum sends her spinning off into space, all alone with no hope of coming back.
Photographed by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski (The Tree of Life), the visuals of this adventure and slight horror film are what's most outstanding. I can't praise the camera work more. In terms of maintaining excitement and terror, this film literally puts the audience right inside the space suit with Sandra Bullock and from beginning to end, we're spinning with her, so much so one won't be able to tell up from down.
For a movie that purports, there is no sound in space, the sound design is tremendous in the movie. It's more than exemplary. Hearing Ryan gasp for air, knowing her oxygen is finite, is chilling. The integration of music is perfect, and the voice-over is utilized to be chaotic and nerve-racking at times and at other times, it's like an exhaust valve, allowing us to laugh and relax.
As one character says, this movie is "one Hell of a ride." The same could be said of all of Cuarón's films. Yet, I will echo the remarks of David Chen on the Slashfilmcast when he said that this movie is not as good, or great rather, than Cuarón's previous film Children of Men (2006). There is, however, a small nod to that 2006 film with a splattering of the lens.
At the end of the day, Gravity is just a spectacle to behold that doesn't say that much more about human's relationship to space travel, isolation, loneliness or the will to survive despite all odds that other movies haven't already said. TV shows like The Twilight Zone have even had more insightful messages. Gravity simply does so in a much simpler but yet ironically a grander way.
I'm glad that Cuarón doesn't reach for the traditional Judeo-Christian religion. Bullock's character states quite clearly that she was never taught to pray, so her fate or her salvation is either going to come from within or nowhere. It may have been heavy-handed, but Cuarón frequently uses the motif of reflection. Characters see themselves or others in reflective surfaces, reinforcing that you can't look to the sky because there is no sky as heaven. All there is a black void. All you can do is look to others or inward.
Cuarón has a moment when he captures a close-up of a Buddhist figurine and it's well-known that this idea of looking inward is a Buddhist one. Rebirth is also an idea inherent in Buddhism. Cuarón appreciates this and embraces it in this film. Aside from the moments when it appears as if Bullock is flying or floating through some ether, he also positions her in the fetal position, simulating that of a baby in utero or in the womb.
It's not a mother's contraction that pushes her through the cosmic fallopian tube. It is in fact the overwhelming force of gravity in a glorious moment that births or rather re-births her.
Clooney's character of Matt has some lines remarking on the beauty of Earth. This movie makes you really be thankful for that beauty and makes you never want to step foot off it again. Clooney is the comic relief but Bullock certainly gets her moments, a one-liner or two. Bullock, though, pulls the audience into her fear and despair and holds the audience the entire time.
Even when Cuarón's plot has every possibly thing that could go wrong go wrong, still Bullock maintains the audience. Cuarón, nevertheless, does a bang-up job sustaining realism, even through the ridiculous escalations. He does so, so well, that I was willing to forgive a silly moment that seem to come straight out of Wall-E (2008).
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.