- Special Features
Blogs & Columns
- Fun & Games
The movies have been to space before, but never like they have with Gravity, the new film from director Alfonso Cuaron. It is his first since 2006's Children of Men, which was easily one of the best science fiction films of the past decade. Three years into this decade, and he may have already crafted the finest science fiction film for the next several years. It is simply going to be too hard to top Gravity, the only film I've ever seen that actually left me breathless when it was over.
Written by Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron, Gravity begins with Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working on the Hubble Telescope while veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is out on his final spacewalk. Stone is on her very first mission and is almost complete when suddenly Mission Control tells them to stop. The Russians have tried to blow up one of their own satellites and the debris gets dangerously close.
And then everything falls apart. The calm ease that Cuaron has built up in a continuing long shot may make you feel as if you're watching an IMAX documentary that belongs in a science museum, but the moment debris hits their spaceship Explorer, Gravity really begins. Stone is left hanging out in space until Kowalski manages to find her and the two try to get to the International Space Station, which has been abandoned.
Thus begins Gravity's pattern – moments where the audience and Stone may feel that they can take a breather, but then something else goes wrong. Yes, we may think that this is standard operating procedure with any thriller, but what makes Gravity so different is how often Cuaron manages to squeeze thrills into this film. Remember, it is just 90 minutes long (shorter, actually, since that time includes the credits), so the periods of ease between the thrills is much shorter than you can anticipate.
The one problem with Gravity may be its unbelievable story and at-times corny dialogue, but Cuaron isn't looking to get awards for the screenplay. Instead, this film is a testament to the power of editing and, of course, visuals. Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography shows what filmmakers can do in the digital realm. I can only imagine that Gravity could usher in a movement where the camera itself can be a character, moving and weaving in unique positions to present a story. Lubezki, who also shot Children of Men, keeps the camera moving, a talent that works so well with a director like Cuaron, who is clearly addicted to the long take.
Sandra Bullock carries this movie, because any movie can look beautiful, but you need a human element with all this technology. You need a reason for your audience to stick around and Bullock is it. While hearing an audience talk during a movie can be annoying, here, it was sort of refreshing to be with a bunch of other people who were so invested in the future of this one woman against all her challenges. That's all because of Bullock's stunning performance. She plays the inexperienced astronaut perfectly. That is also another genius move in the script – Stone is experienced enough to know about space, but it never feels like she's smarter than the audience. Sometimes films that are built on technical achievements seem so distant and inhuman, but Gravity avoids that trap.
Gravity is the very definition of a thriller. It's plot may seem unfeasible and the science is most likely off, but Cuaron is able to overcome any challenges. It is a directorial achievement and he has crafted a movie that we will be talking about in the future. There may be no gravity in space, but Gravity shows that the drive to live can be a force in itself to pull anyone back to earth and how Cuaron showed that is remarkable.
Oscar predictions: Gravity should get three nominations in the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Actress (Bullock) and Best Director (Cuaron). However, I don't see it winning in all three. Films that can't win in the script categories have a hard time in the Best Picture category and Bullock will probably lose out to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine. Cuaron would have an uphill battle trying to beat 12 Years A Slave's Steve McQueen, whose film is the one to beat for Best Picture. But, I think Cuaron has a slim chance at pulling off a surprise. Just like last year's winner, Ang Lee, Cuaron has shown the best of digital filmmaking, which is no easy thing to pull off.
image: Warner Bros.