Space is as beautiful as it is frightening. It has enamored man since we were chiseling wheels out of stone. Select few have gotten to fly among the stars and there have been many movies made about those adventures like The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. I am here to say that Alfonso Cuaròn’s Gravity has set a new standard for the genre. It will take you into unimaginable despair, palpable tension and a sense of hope, all set against one of the most beautiful backdrops ever put to film.
And it does so in 90 minutes.
*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
When Gravity opens we are greeted with a breathtaking view of Earth. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is having a hard time keeping her lunch down as she works on the Hubble telescope during her first space mission. The counterpoint to Stone is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is a veteran astronaut on his final mission into the stars. As Stone upgrades the telescope, Kowalski is having fun testing a new thruster pack while listening to country music and regaling Houston with his many stories of different women who have broken his heart. He begins each story with “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission” and as a bit of history embedded in the movie, Cuarón has Ed Harris voicing the Houston end of communication.
As repairs continue Houston warns the team of a Russian anti-satellite test that has gone wrong and has created a debris field that is growing larger as it takes out more satellites (think The Perfect Storm, just with satellite parts). Stone and Kowalski are unable to take cover in time and are separated. As Stone spins out of control, helpless, Kowalski uses his jetpack to reach her and tether them together. Their shuttle being completely rendered useless, Kowalski decides to try and get them to the International Space Station and use an escape pod to reach Earth.
Do not be fooled into thinking this is simply “Cast Away in Space”. There is no space volleyball. Clooney is a prime player and the voice of calm and reason for much longer than you think. But when this becomes Bullock’s film, she absolutely owns every minute of it. I always wondered why she won an Oscar for The Blind Side, but I have to say now that if she is not nominated again and a serious contender to win, there is something wrong in Hollywood. She takes you through a gamut of emotions that can rarely be matched. She runs through the five steps of (space) grief, albeit not in the usual order. I so much want to tell you more about the latter half of the film but can not in good conscience do that, needless to say that Bullock is a marvel to watch.
I am not a big fan of 3D movies, especially these days with all the post-produced effects as a money grab. I watched Gravity in IMAX 3D and was infinitely happy I did. It is the best use of the format since Avatar (I am not comparing the movies, mind you, just the use of 3D). More than once my jaw was agape at the immense depth of view when you were surrounded by nothing but stars. I flinched once during one particular scene involving the debris field, which comes along more than once. The use of practical effects and CGI are truly amazing.
Alfonso Cuarón was already one of my favorite directors having done Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and one of my favorite films ever, Children of Men. He has hit new heights with Gravity in ways I never thought possible. For people like me that grew up staring into the stars and wondering what it would be like to float among them, he has given one of the most realistic looks at what it is like. The child in me wants to thank him for the wonder and the adult me wants to praise him for the technical and emotional ride that he has crafted.
Gravity is an achievement that should not be missed. It is my favorite movie of the year, by far.
It is the reason why we go to movies.
NERD RATING- 9.5/10