“It’s fear of the unknown,” John Lennon once said, and that has never been truer. Space is a big expanse of dark, devoid nothingness filled with a deafening silence, something pulsing, beating – until you realize it’s your own heart. The concept of being out in a vacuum is incomprehensibly overwhelming, and it’s unthinkable that brave men and women risk their lives out there in space. My respect for astronauts has rocketed through the roof after watching Gravity.
Director Alfonso Cuaron brings out the terror and beauty of drifting in space in an unprecedented cinematic experience, breaking boundaries with the artistic use of technology and pushing the IMAX experience to a whole new level. At first, I was dubious of a two-person cast, but Sandra Bullock audaciously carries the weight of the movie as Dr. Ryan Stone, an unseasoned medical engineer on her first trip to space. George Clooney as the cool-as-a-cucumber Kowalski, an experienced astronaut, doesn’t allow for much character development. However, I did enjoy his wisecracks, his levelheadedness in the face of danger, and ultimately, his heroism. When space debris destroys their craft, the two sole survivors brush with death as they make their way to abandoned shuttles, confronting a lack of oxygen, the orbiting debris, and the dangerous elements of zero gravity kinetics.
In the beginning, it took me awhile to buy the idea that characters were in space. The first scene had a slightly unnatural feel, as if the filmmakers had plastered the actors’ faces into a digitally created environment (which is, believe it or not, actually what they did), but Gravity overtook me and I believed. I had no choice but to believe – the perilousness is so authentically tangible. For the first time in a long time in my movie-going experience, I was convinced that neither of the characters would survive. After all, this is a movie about space, where anything and everything is possible.
Cuaron deftly tosses all standard cinematography rules out the window by daring to use the unconfined measures of cosmic nothingness to his greatest advantage. The camera moves through the fluidness of space, shifting upside down, around and around, but the camera work is never choppy. He utilizes the unique view through Dr. Stone’s eyes, tumbling wildly out of control in a void with nothing to stop your body from drifting outwards into the unknown. The technology accomplishes its job so well that it’s hard not to believe you are actually in space. Many other movies have been branded as a “roller-coaster” or the ultimate “thrill-ride”, but this is not just a coaster in terms of emotion, but because it feels as if someone has switched off gravity in the middle of the theater. Every single shot is stunning and calculated.
Bullock’s character has a poignant backstory, which almost tips the scale to corny monologues and forced lines. Almost. Fortunately, the script manages to stay realistic and moving. Her panicked breathing, whether from adrenaline or lack of oxygen, steps up my own heart rate. Of course, sound doesn’t travel in space, but the orchestral score and the very, very loud bangs are meant to imitate shockwaves, and the sound effects are absolutely stunning.
Nothing but the IMAX experience will do this tour de force justice. The PG-13 rating holds true in disturbing images – shots are brief, but heart pounding. Even so, the hope, compassion, and courage reaches out even amidst the spontaneous surreal terrible dangers of space. Gravity will leave you shaking with an inexplicable feeling of awe at the vastness of space. Ages 11+