“The special effects work must be hailed…”

Gravity is a masterpiece on film; a film that takes a simple, yet complex idea and exercises it to its fullest potential. I never get tired of seeing films like this. It’s a film of stunning beauty, polarizing instances, amazing long shots, tonal precision, a grandiose setting, human acting, and the element of surprise. I’d hate to see the facial expressions I made during this film.

The film stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, two of the best actors of this current generation in cinema, as Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, respectively. They are two astronauts currently six-hundred kilometers above the Earth and conducting a mission on the ISS. During the mission, Houston informs them of flying debris that, while moving at 20,000 miles an hour, will miss them. That is until the debris takes out a nearby satellite and moves itself closer in their proximity. Operating on a large satellite, both Stone and Kowalski split from ISS, but inevitably get struck by debris, sending them flying aimlessly in space.

Directed by
Alfonso Cuarón
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Release Date
4 October 2013
Steve’s Grade: A+

There is no oxygen. No air pressure. Not even gravity, resulting in both astronauts spinning and floating uncontrollably without anything to grab on to. After tethering themselves to each other, both astronauts exhaust several possibilities to try and assure they’ll live to see another day, let alone touch the ground once more.

Stone is from Lake Zurich, Illinois, and lost her daughter in a freak playground accident. Kowalski is more of a jokester, unmotivated to give deals about himself but more than happy to provide light-hearted, necessary humor in a time of despair and fear. When they separate, however, their own personalities and wits must be their source for survival.

The immediate assumption that will be made about Gravity is it is another film that exists solely in one setting and will ultimately tread the line of boring. This assumption is likely spread by people who never bothered to sit through great films like Open Water and Scenic Route, films that utilized their only setting to a tee. But Gravity becomes invested in character, and possesses certain scenes that have the power and suspense of a feature film.

One in particular, is when Stone attempts to circle the globe to try and find other satellites and pods that will provide her a way to get back to Earth. When she re-enters her own mission’s pod, she can no longer receive communications from home base and her partner. But before even trying, she enters the pod, turns on the oxygen valve, takes off her entire suit, revealing a gray wife-beater and tight black shorts, and wallows in the air and the peace, resembling an unborn fetus. It’s one of the many artistic and beautiful shots in the film.

The special effects work must be hailed and is undoubtedly one of the keys to the film’s success. Viewing it in IMAX 3D (the first time I’ve ever dished out extra money for the medium’s benefits), the effects of the sound, visuals, and environment had an almost paralyzing effect on me. With work like this, it pains me when I recognize the limited value studios and the public place on special effects studio. Director Alfonso Cuarón utilizes the VFX work with masterful directorial effort, combining the use of first-person perspective, extreme long shots, long shots that last up to eight minutes, and extreme close ups that show the anxiety of its subjects.

I’ve been a long time fan of Sandra Bullock. I loved her when I was a young child and defended her controversial Oscar win for The Blind Side. Here, she has the power to make her detractors think twice. When both astronauts separate, a certain amount of weight of the film rests on the intoxicating atmosphere of the picture, and an even larger amount of weight rests on her as a performer.

The film has the power and unpredictability of a film like the kind Andy Warhol made. Consider his half-hour long Blow Job, or his eight-hour long film Sleep, both films that featured exactly what their titles promised. They were films that captured one static shot of whatever they were profiling, and the excitement and suspense stemmed from the fact that you didn’t know what was coming. Insignificant, unpredictable movements were the excitement. Gravity capitalizes off of the fact that you don’t know where it’s going and overwhelmingly succeeds at that.

Seeing as Cuarón serves as co-producer, co-writer, co-editor, and director on this film, I have every reason in the world to believe he assumed very much creative control on this project. This is a huge plus for him, seeing as he keeps everything in the film realistic and breathtaking. I can only compare his large-scale directing to Ang Lee’s in Life of Pi, as Lee had the challenge of making an immersing drama that scarcely touched land. As a result, he needed to pull off tricky photography and crafty camerawork to make a story that remains interesting as well as visually dazzling. Life of Pi‘s directing got Lee an Oscar; let’s hope the same happens for Cuarón.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic

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