Disaster films are a dime a dozen these days. Scenes of massive destruction alienate the viewers from the characters in order to achieve a quick sense of shock. It’s films like Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón’s latest foray into science fiction and his first project in seven years, that seeks to include the viewers in the film’s sense of disaster.
Hundreds of miles above the Earth’s surface, crewmembers of the Explorer space shuttle are servicing the Hubble telescope when debris from a destroyed satellite hurtles across their path. Their ship is destroyed, and the force sends newcomer Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (portrayed by Sandra Bullock) hurtling off into the void. After being retrieved by the only other surviving crewmember, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), the two make a journey over to the International Space Station to use an escape module before the debris passes them by once again.
In case it wasn’t already cemented in the public mindset with his masterful 2006 drama Children of Men, Alfono Cuarón is a storytelling genius. Whereas Children of Men was a tale of hope against the backdrop of the future void of humanity, Gravity is a tale of hope against the great expanse of space: a void of all. Cuarón builds tension through his intriguing long takes, forcing the audience to linger on scenes of disaster before allowing the relief that comes with a new shot. Conversely, these longs shots that are aided by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki also allow the viewer to admire the beauty of the characters’ space and to become fully immersed within the world of anti-gravity, so much so that when the opening 17-minute-long shot comes to an end it’s rather disappointing as it jolts us out of the film’s brilliantly constructed reality.
The CGI and sound design truly add to the film’s plausibility. The spacewalk scenes appear so real that it’s scary and the utilization of silence for means of terror procures chills from the audience. Even the use of 3D—which I’ve usually written off as a gimmick—is actually beneficial here, adding a sense of spatial reference and inclusiveness to the film that’s unparalleled by any other entries in the medium.
Sandra Bullock provides one of her best performances here, eclipsing that of her Oscar winning performance in The Blind Side. The film is an intimate documentation of her struggle in these catastrophic hours and we as the audience truly feel devastated whenever she comes across yet another obstacle hindering her journey home. However, it’s through her and Clooney’s character that the film reveals its singular weak spot. Cuarón, while a true visionary, needs to fine-tune his writing. This isn’t to say that his films are written poorly but he does display important plot points and tropes through bland and blatant dialogue with a cheesy flare. It’s not quite a detriment to the film itself, but rather simplistic construction for a film that boldly reaches for the stars.
Regardless of its tiny imperfection, Gravity is a sight to be seen on the largest screen possible. With outstanding special effects that immerse the audience like no other film has done, it’d be doing the film a disservice to see it in any other format than 3D. Afterwards, you may need some time to get re-accustomed to reality.