Greetings again from the darkness. Gravity is a visually stunning film that creates a you-are-there-in-space feeling unlike any other. That said, hopefully you aren’t expecting yet another in the seemingly endless stream of unadulterated praise fests for Alfonso Cuaron’s critically beloved and audience pleasing film. While the mass appeal is certainly understandable, I’ve never been one to sit back and accept the surface value.
There are two elements for discussion here: the visually stunning and technical marvel from a filmmaking perspective, and the emotionally-manipulating and somewhat emptiness of the narrative story-telling and characters. On the technical front, one would be hard-pressed to come up with a more impressive film. It is simply breath-taking, especially when seen in the format it should be seen … 3D IMAX. Rarely, if ever, has space seemed more real, more beautiful and more ominous. From the extended opening take (Cuaron is known for his long takes), to the numerous shots of Planet Earth (from dominating the screen, to reflections in helmet shields), we are drawn in to the space walking and perils of Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). Even Carl Sagan and his “pale blue dot” musings would admire these space-based visuals of our home planet.
From an entertainment viewpoint, the film works as a high-stress, thrilling space mission gone bad and ultimate survival story. What left me feeling a bit distracted and hence, quite annoyed, was the often eye-rolling dialogue seemingly designed to force our connection with the Clooney and, especially, Bullock characters. I prefer to experience my own emotions in both real life and in movies … obvious cues and manipulating tugs through weak character development drives me away from, rather than towards the desired connectivity. My issues with the film are not related to the numerous scientific issues identified by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. This is all explained away by Mr. Cuaron’s statement that the film is “not a documentary“. If we can be cool with Forrest Gump creating the smiley face, we can accept that Sandra Bullock can navigate her way between space stations with a fire extinguisher. What I can’t be cool with are cheap writing ploys that tell me I must feel a specific emotion at a particular time for a certain character.
Despite this, it’s tough to argue against the technical marvel and thrilling (computer generated) experience created here. The 3D adds depth of field and adds a touch of realism, rather than the gimmicky tricks we often see with the format. With only a couple of jarring exceptions, Steven Price’s score is minimal and complimentary to the quietness of space. Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men) re-teams with Cuaron for the extraordinary look (with probably numerous technical Oscars on the way). Some of the symbolism was a bit overdone – recurring umbilical imagery for the re-birth, but it’s done to ensure no viewer misses the point. Finally, I got a kick out of Ed Harris’ voice coming from Mission Control (think back to The Right Stuff and Apollo 13).
I would encourage you to seek out the largest screen with the best sound … 3D IMAX is greatly preferred. Yes, it will cost you more than you should pay for a movie ticket, but the payoff is significant. This one won’t be the same on your ipad or even your home theater system. It’s the first step forward in movie technology since Avatar. If you can sit back and let the movie guide you, perhaps you will avoid the frustrations I experienced.
**NOTE: Although many critics have already proclaimed this the best picture of the year and are saying Sandra Bullock is a shoe-in for Best Actress, I will not be onboard with either. I found it fascinating and would even label it a “must see”, but truly great movies have characters and stories that draw me to them.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have access to a theater with a huge screen and great sound system – preferably 3D IMAX
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you miss its theatrical run … watching it on your laptop or ipad 6 months from now will be time wasted
watch the trailer: