THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Gravity is more than a movie; it's a genuine, honest-to-goodness, bona fide experience. It's like seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark or Pulp Fiction for the first time, in that the relentlessness and freshness of that experience takes you to a whole other place, mentally and emotionally. You aren't sitting in a movie theater, you're transported to some other cinematic dimension where nothing else matters except for what's taking place in front of your eyes. Maybe that sounds like hyperbole, but I assure you it isn't. Ask me in twenty-five years about the most magical moviegoing excursions I've had, and I'm pretty sure I'll cite the day I saw Gravity as one of them.
There is elegance in the story's simplicity. George Clooney plays astronaut Matt Kowalski and Sandra Bullock is medical engineer Ryan Stone. The opening scene finds them doing repair work while on a space walk. Word comes in from Mission Control that debris from a destroyed satellite is headed their way. They don't make it back into the space shuttle in time. The debris does its damage, leaving them adrift in space. Communication with Houston is interrupted. The rest of Gravity shows what happens during this fight for survival in a location where there is no help.
Every muscle in my body tensed up during the first two minutes of the movie and didn't relax until it was over. On a basic level, Gravity works as an abandonment thriller. Like Alien or Open Water, it creates a queasy sense of there's nothing you can do dread. Kowalski and Stone are in space. They have no one to rely on except each other. There is no way anyone can quickly arrive on the scene to help them. They are at the mercy of a hostile environment and whatever fate may throw their way. Each thing that occurs ups the ante on danger. It seems like nothing worse could happen, then it does. The way tension is so consistently maintained is genius.
There is, however, something that truly makes the film special: 3D. If you see Gravity in 2D, you aren't really seeing Gravity. 3D has never been more essential or vital to a movie. Director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) uses 3D to achieve two very specific effects. The first is the vastness of space. When Kowalski and Stone are floating above the Earth, you can feel the immense heights, in addition to the distance between them and anything resembling land. Other scenes, such as one in which Stone briefly spirals helplessly into the middle of nothingness, take on a terrifying quality because the vastness of the space around her is palpable. The other effect 3D provides is disorientation. To the best of my knowledge, the format has never been used in this manner before. There are POV shots where you see everything as Stone does. When she tumbles helplessly, you physically feel her inability to orient herself. When she scrambles around various floating objects, grasping for handholds, the sensation of instability becomes overwhelming. Cuaron shoots such things in long, fluid takes, with the camera itself taking on a weightless quality. This goes a long way toward selling the illusion, as does first class special effects work.
During the ordeal, Stone often talks to herself. At first, her dialogue seems corny, as though the screenplay is afraid to simply let her do what she needs to do. Gradually, though, we sense a theme shaping around the things she says. As it comes full circle, Gravity reveals that it is more than an adventure in space; it's also a very humanistic tale, one that has added power because of this personal nature. Bullock is fantastic in the role, displaying continual fear and panic, while always finding new ways of doing so. Clooney is good as well. His Kowalski is much calmer in a crisis, largely out of necessity. Because the actor is so solid, the influence his character has on Stone leads to a satisfying payoff.
Gravity is, simply put, an amazing experience that needs to be seen in 3D and on the biggest screen possible. I think Cuaron wanted to make this movie because the technology allowed him to. Modern effects and 3D technology are sophisticated enough that realistic zero-gravity action is now possible. This is literally a movie unlike any other. Exciting, thrilling, astonishing, technically dazzling, and ultimately life-affirming, Gravity is nothing short of a milestone in cinema.
( out of four)
Gravity is rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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