Running Time: 90 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Which is worse: to be buried alive like Rex Hofman in George Sluizer’s THE VANISHING, or adrift far from earth like Professors John and Maureen Robinson in Stephen Hopkins’s LOST IN SPACE? Would you dread the claustrophobia of being in a six-foot box, six feet underground, with diminishing air and no food, or would you be more horrified if you were lost and floating far above the Earth, in a way the opposite of the claustrophobic feeling of being down under?
Alfonso Cuaron, who directed GRAVITY, and Jonas Cuaron who co-wrote it with his father, the director, does not answer the question. They deal, however, with one aspect: the feeling of being outside your space ship after debris from all the junk that was deposited there by the Americans, Russian, Chinese, and who-knows-who-else destroys their vessel, leaving the astronauts spinning as though in the most terrifying carousel imaginable but at least able to speak with one another for a time until everything goes silent.
The silence is quite a contrast from the opening credits which the filmmakers amplify with the perhaps the loudest sound ever made in a movie—at least from the theater in which I found myself. For all the eighty million dollars that the producers set back the studio, GRAVITY is a two-hander, and those two hands are among the most celebrated of Hollywood stars: Sandra Bullock in the role of Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant engineer on her first space mission, and her experienced partner in space played by George Clooney as Matt Kowalski. As in most George Clooney movies, his Matt is full of wisecracks while Ms. Bullock, known principally as a comedian, plays a more introspective role, that of a good listener.
GRAVITY may just be the most gorgeous film set in space, one that optimizes the use of 3D without that fringe benefit self-consciously putting objects and people right up to your nose. This is a story of survival, though the Cuarons do not tell us in advance whether both will survive, both will perish, or will split the difference. The film does not outwear its welcome, coming in at just an hour and a half, possessing a screenplay that clearly takes a back seat to the special effects—which now, in the year 2013, have advanced considerably since Ken Russell’s 1980 movie ALTERED STATES.
As the two astronauts learn that they are the last couple on a mission 600 km’s above the Earth to survive an avalanche of debris that destroys the ship and presumably smashes into all other space cadets, they believe they are doomed as well—though Matt regularly makes encouraging statements to his partner, chatting her up by asking her things that he must have known before the mission such as whether there is “a Mr. Stone at home” the origin of her masculine name “Ryan,” and assuring her that, more or less, whoever is back there can start the air conditioner for her return. When Matt appears to sacrifice himself so that she can live (will he return as the movie’s big surprise?), she falls into a reverie, talking to herself about her earthly problems such as the death of her daughter.
Given the awesome technology and contrasting this with a mundane script, GRAVITY is a film to gaze at wide-eyed and with open mouth, one to respect and not necessarily one to like or love. Remember that this is not meant as a sci-fi drama: don’t expect Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or Robert Zemeckis’s CONTACT. While the fate of the two cannot be known in advance, GRAVITY serves to put us symbolically far from terra firma with beautiful imagery and stunning CGI and FX.
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