Friday, 8 November 2013

Gravity

Academy Award Nominations: 10

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Alfonso Cuaron)
  • Best Actress (Sandra Bullock)
  • Best Original Score (Steven Price)
  • Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  • Best Editing (Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger)
  • Best Production Design (Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin, Joanne Woodlard)
  • Best Sound Editing (Glenn Freemantle)
  • Best Sound Mixing (Skip Lievsay, Christopher Benstead, Niv Adiri, Chris Munro)
  • Best Visual Effects (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould, Nikki Penny)


Dr Ryan Stone is on her first space mission aboard the Explorer accompanied by Matt Kowalski, a veteran on his last mission. In the middle of a spacewalk, they receive word from mission control that a destroyed Russian satellite is destroying other satellites, creating a chain reaction of debris heading their way. Stone and Kowalski attempt to get out of its way but they're too late: They get hit by the debris, and are left stranded in space, untethered to any shuttle or station, with no communications with Earth and no way of getting home...

Usually in this paragraph, I'll ramble about the history of the film being reviewed, whether it's sequels or the material the film's based on, I might even touch upon the production history before kicking off. I'll be honest, I knew nothing of Gravity until the first trailer appeared. Wow. Then the second trailer appeared. Wow. Since then, it's been everywhere: George Clooney and Sandra Bullock lost in space from the director of a Harry Potter film. No-one knew much of the plot or what would happen, and slowly but surely we found out the film is three years in the making after being written by the director and his son. It's been a long time since I've seen an original film not based on another text. Gravity is, unfortunately, a rarity in modern cinema. Let's hope that trend is bucked after this, because... Wow.

Gravity is stunning. Why sugar coat it or go a long way around saying it? It's stunning, it's a stunning piece of cinema. But where to begin? Let's go with the cinematography. This film has been excellently filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki, cinematographer previously on The Tree of Life and Children of Men. Given that this film is mainly a green screen production with heavy special effects, that's no mean feat. Essentially, the film has been shot in a series of long takes where the camera is completely fluid, moving from long shot, to close up, to third person, to first person, all in one seamless movement for a good 20 minutes. The way the film has been shot is just one element (of which there are many) which contribute to the audience's involvement in the film; you feel like you're there with the characters, whilst also being taken out of it and made to look at the horror and the beauty of the situation. The editing is minimal because the cinematography does all of the editor's hard work for him. It captures wonderfully the beauty of space, as well as the terror of a vast, uncontrollable, unending setting in which there are no directions, there's no up or down, there's no control, and personal locations are completely subjective. With the film being a series of long takes, it takes a fantastic amount of talent and control from its lead actors.

George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are given a monumental task in Gravity; they have to get through a series of long takes without any mistakes, they were asked to act in a situation where nothing was real and they were surrounded by green screens and cranes with only the hope that they're doing the right thing, and there are no other acting performances in this film; they are left to carry a 90 minute film by themselves. They did it, man. Research tells me that most of Sandra Bullock's scenes were shot while fastened into a giant mechanical rig simulating weightlessness, where she often spent 10 hours a day without breaks. Good for her, because she's still amazing. Terrified, yet optimistic; brave, yet flawed. George Clooney is great as well playing a stereotypical veteran astronaut on his last mission, evoking any number of sci-fi space films with a veteran commander. He's charming, charismatic, brave, bold, smart, all of the above and more. But it's Sandra's film, despite some dodgy dialogue.

If anything, that's the only fault with the film. The dialogue, technical space mission stuff aside, sounds like it was lifted straight from a 1950s B-movie adventure. However, I dare say this film overcomes this because it's such a non-important part. It's not about what they say, it's about what they do and where they do it. Alfonso Cuaron is a fantastic director, and this proved it. How he creates the situation, how he lets it play out, how he resolves it, it's all spot on and really engages the audience with its characters. He calls upon a number of sci-fi tropes and themes, especially in the hiring of Ed Harris as the voice of mission control (think Apollo 13), to make the audience know what kind of territory they're in with this film: As soon as you see Sandra Bullock essentially becoming Ripley from the Alien films in one scene, you know Cuaron's influences here. It explains the B-movie dialogue: Gravity is a big budget, effects laden, sci-fi B-movie that surpasses its inspirations. It even out does Wall-E at one point.

Overall, this film is an event, an experience that needs to be seen in the cinema. Don't download it illegally, don't even wait for the legal download or the DVD or Blu Ray. This film needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with the biggest sound system possible, and as much as I hate to say it, it needs to be seen in 3D. Being set in space, you don't really lose that much light from the 3D glasses, and the 3D effects, which were done post-production, are essential to the experience. Cuaron has managed to portray both the sheer beauty and the sheer terror of open space. I'm giving this film 5 out of 5 stars because I've never seen a film that has immersed me in the watching experience as much as Gravity did, I don't think I've ever left a cinema screen so exhilarated and near-breathless. It may lose a star, star and a half once it leaves cinemas because this film was made for cinematic viewing, not for home viewing. If you're going to watch Gravity, do it in the next 5 weeks at a cinema in 3D. Don't wait until you can see it at home, because you'll be missing out on what makes this film great.

Rating: *****

Gravity was released on 4th October 2013 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.
This review was edited and updated for its inclusion to Best Picture Nominee Season.