‘Gravity’ a tour de force worthy of all the hype
Breathtaking. When that’s adjective is used to describe a film set in space, you can’t help but note the irony. It’s hard to care about the irony, though, when said film leaves you dazzled, awestruck, starry-eyed and, yes, breathless. “Gravity” reaches for the stars in ways both simple and complex, and its reverence of both terra firma and the universe around us will leave you surrounded by your floating tears.
“Gravity,” directed by Alfonso Cuarón and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, merges the visceral emotion of being stranded in space with awe-inspiring animation and computer-generated effects. It’s a fluid, brilliant design we don’t see much of anymore.
But it’s not like the effect-laden bonanzas we’ve been seeing lately. Cuarón and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki submerge us in a world (or vast, empty space, if you will) where the drama is tangible, the danger tactile. It’s a world you want to see (if only from a distance).
Set in glorious 3-D, “Gravity” isn’t your average space adventure gone terrifying wrong. The science-fiction of this space walk actually resembles real-life more often than not. (Take that with a grain of salt; it’s still a movie.) Zero gravity dominates the set pieces, with tools and debris floating overhead. The black, seemingly never-ending space around our astronauts comes across as both foreign and familiar. It’s a mesmerizing effect.
The engaging plot begin with what is a routine, if insanely complicated repair mission on the Hubble telescope amidst friendly banter between Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), mission commander Lt. Matt Kowalski (Clooney) and Phaldut Shariff (Paul Sharma).
This is Stone’s first endeavor into space, sent there to fix a scanner she warned before launch wouldn’t work properly. Kowalski is retelling (yet again) tales of his past to Houston command. Country music seeps through the speakers. It has the feel of a typical office on a typical day.
The banal, if surreal setting quickly changes for the worse when the dangers of orbiting Earth comes to the forefront. Don’t forget: That orbit is flooded with spacecraft and satellites and the space station. When debris from a destroyed satellite starts careening toward our space-faring leads, the tension skyrockets, the fear palpable.
As silent chaos flashes around them, Stone and Kowalski fights for their lives, with the seasoned Kowalski taking the lead. His calm voice, mixed with his ridiculous stories, bring a sense of authority to a scene of utter anarchy. (It doesn’t hurt that Clooney is the one soothing both Bullock and us. That voice has some serious charm.)
But it’s Bullock who shines in the sun’s bright glare in “Gravity.” Her mature, wrenching performance is captivating. It’s striking to see the difference between this performance and, say, her comedic role in “The Proposal.” Her depth is astonishing.
As the astronauts desperately scramble for their safety, “Gravity’s” filmography cramps us into the tight, clunky quarters of space shuttles and drowns us in the boundless darkness of space. When Stone’s perspective goes first-person, it’s pervasive and intimate, reminiscent of a beautifully rendered video game. She’s thrown around, bangs into equipment, loses her bearings.
And those set pieces she runs into? Meticulous and well-crafted. Production designer Andy Nicholson shows the actual jarring designs of spacecraft. (Meaning: It’s not as aesthetically pleasing as one would think.)
Even with all this, it’s the human connection that sticks with you. The prayer from someone who never prayed in her life. Jubilation when something, anything goes right. A floating tear. It crashes on you with a furor humans only feel when contemplating the sheer unknown of the universe, the unending vastness of what lies beyond our little ball of earth.
One of the film’s opening lines is that life is impossible in space. After watching “Gravity,” knowing that isn’t going to stop us from trying.
Five “dangerous conditions” stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.