Arts and Entertainment Editor
Rarely does a film feel as immersive as Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” a space drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.
“Gravity” pits its characters against the humbling odds of space catastrophe in a visceral, visual way that has been mostly unseen since “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The film’s stars— Bullock and Clooney— are alone the on-screen actors, as the rest of the cast serves only as voiceovers. The two-actor tandem powerfully uses the lack of other characters to great effect, while being contrastingly captured in front the largest backdrop of them all, space
The film begins with first-time mission specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) on a service mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. The unassuming astronauts exchange dialogue about the grandeur and stomach-spinning awkwardness of working in space, as Kowalski charms mission control with outlandish, very-Texan stories while playing country music.
As Kowalski boyishly floats in space and eerily mentions (with a dash of dramatic irony) that he has a “bad feeling” about the mission, the astronauts receive a message from mission control warning that a barrage of space debris, caused by Russian satellite demolition, is headed their way. As the protagonists barely survive with their lives, Stone is launched into the depths of space with no friction to halt her momentum.
After the barrage passes, and after a frantic Stone calms herself and manages to find landmarks in a three-dimensional space, Kowalski performs the type of space-cowboy heroics that come to be expected of his rather archetypal character. Using his jetpack, he saves Stone and tethers the two together.
The tether between Kowalski and Stone serves as more than a physical link; it serves as a symbolic reminder that the two astronauts have only one another in the vast expanse. In a way, it is their personal source of gravity.
After being tethered together, the two stranded astronauts begin a quest for survival, setting their destination for escape pods on a space station. As the two jostle through space, the only source of theatrical energy is tension (along with them colliding with spacefaring objects), and by god there is a lot of it.
The dialogue in “Gravity” isn’t particularly memorable, and neither are the random bites of backstory, which are supposed to make viewers feel attached to the characters. They are quite sad, but, in the end, they’re rather shallow; however, they don’t detract from the quality of the experience. It would have been more desirable if Cuarón had decided to either flesh out his characters or adhere to an even more silent experience, though.
“Gravity” is full of visual brilliance. The cinematography takes advantage of the full plane of space. There are beautiful— albeit slightly nauseating— scenes of rotating and floating, while the astronauts abide the momentum of Kowalski’s jetpack and their snatching tether.
What’s more remarkable is that it’s even better in 3-D.
As a matter of fact, Cuarón’s film, and its grand stage, cannot be viewed fully in justice without the 3-D effects.
Throughout the movie, “Gravity” has short stints of Stone’s first-person view, and this makes the movie reminiscent of an experience in a video game. Its journey motif is well complemented by the first-person perspective, and moviegoers will feel the stress of Stone’s trek from point “A” to point “B.”
That’s part of what makes “Gravity” special, too. It’s a very linear journey despite its spacious surroundings, and that linearity is befitting of such a simple struggle with such definite consequences.
The films music feels familiar to this genre, but it’s solid. The moments of suffocating silence the movie uses to portray the terrifying vacuum of space are the highlights of its use of sound.
The gorgeous cinematography alone would score “Gravity” high marks, but the astronauts’ breathtaking battle for survival, which isn’t inhibited by a large amount of stuffy allegory, is compelling and immersive. “Gravity” is the best movie to come out thus far in 2013, and it’s one the best space dramas in recent memory.