Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
When we go to the movies, there is a certain expectation to see something you’ve never seen before. The trailers show us romantic moments, heart-pumping explosions, and eye-popping visuals in hopes that it will peak our interest enough to get our asses off the couch and into a movie theater. In fact, I would say there is probably some perfect commercial formula out there to trick the consumer into doing anything you want, but no such formula was used to brain wash viewers into seeing Gravity. Instead, we were offered an experience; a different way of consuming a story.
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space walk tending to the Hubble Space Telescope close to 400 miles out of lower Earth Orbit. She is joined by a fellow doctor and lead by Astronaut/Mission Leader Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). After a missile destroys a Russian satellite, a wave of debris begins to orbit around Earth’s atmosphere. The debris quickly forms a kind of storm, collecting further and further debris and is hurdling towards the Hubble Telescope. The 7 minutes that Houston warns they have to return to safety is not nearly enough and the storm begins to rip the telescope to pieces with speeding shards of metal in a silent scene of fear and despair.
Director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) has always used a very specific technique of using wide angle shots and long takes to place you in the middle of the story. In Gravity he has a way of making you feel breathless and scared for your own life. He achieves this with a mixture of two things: Plenty of vast, long spanning shots of the dark abyss known as lifeless space, and almost complete and utter silence. The quiet nature of the film is a constant reminder of that old Alien tagline ‘In Space, no one can hear you scream.’ While watching Stone grasp for a grip on to anything that will stop her from floating away, you will connect with that feeling of trepidation, because floating in space is not like floating in water, where you can use the matter around you to move. In space, you are robbed of control and there’s nowhere to go.
There is little need for exposition in this film due to the necessity of the visual effects. Cuaron said in a recent interview about Gravity that too often today the audience can walk into a theater, close their eyes, and still understand what is going on. In this film, his goal is almost the complete opposite. By ‘experiencing’ this movie, you will feel less like a fly on the wall, and more like the protagonist herself. The immersive quality of this movie could be credited mostly to something I like to call 3D imperative storytelling. By this, I mean that the film wouldn’t have felt as dangerous, impactful, or harrowing if not for the spectacular use of 3D. This effect was so successful at enveloping me in the film that I had to remind myself to take breaths.
Cuaron does not expect to win us over with visual effects alone, though. His cast, while small, are chosen for their strengths. Clooney may give his expected bravado performance, but Sandra Bullock plays someone out of her element. She plays someone who was given an opportunity that no one could pass up, regardless of the dangers involved. How she deals with the pressure is ultimately where she shows her character’s weakness. Collectiveness under duress is something Dr. Stone has trained for, but quickly learns that preparedness is something completely different.
Gravity feels like a really well done documentary that goes terribly wrong while filming but is still able to bring you to an ultimate lesson. There are many movies set in space, but none convey the depth of fear one would feel if released into its deep caverns. For leaving me astonished and disoriented, and teaching me that adversity comes with being taken out of your comfort zone, I give Gravity 5 out of 5 Nerdskulls.
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