Monday, October 7, 2013
Gravity: In Space, No One Can Hear You Have a Panic Attack
The movie wastes absolutely zero time before it makes your blood pressure rise: Medical Engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are servicing the Hubble Telescope, and "Houston" comes onto the radio--Ed Harris' voice, in a nice nod to Apollo 13--to warn the crew that debris from a Russian Satellite have started a chain reaction of faster-than-a-bullet metal chunks that threaten to damage their mission and shuttle. And then: Boom. It happens--hundreds of thousands of deadly shards rip apart their ship, and both characters are rolling and floating in free space with dwindling oxygen and a twirling loss of direction.
There are no more plot points to delve into: just picture every worst case scenario for Bullock's character at nearly every turn, and you're almost there. In a film such as this, a film that focuses on (mostly) one character, it's generally hard to relate without some back story or flashbacks. But Gravity foregoes any sort of character development and focuses on the incredible visuals. Sure, we get a few introspective talking-to-herself scenes about Bullock and a deceased family member, but they're the worst parts of Gravity. And that's not to take anything away from Bullock's performance in the film--it is surely good. But I'm skeptical that it's one of the best portrayals of the year. Anyone can breath really heavily (like me, sitting in the theater watching the movie). Clooney is charming and assured, as always. But the real star of the film is the terror and loneliness of space.
Many themes run through Gravity, themes that have been explored in cinema many times before: trying to survive in the face of death, the randomness of life, the psychological danger of isolation. And these themes--though never heavily focused on--work well with Cuaron's direction. Though Gravity on the whole seems like one long tracking shot, Cuaron actually seamlessly interweaves POV angles from inside Ryan's helmet to outside shots showing the perils of her situation. It's effective. One could go on and on about the visuals in Gravity: it feels like this is the future of movie-making in the ever-growing computer-based technology age. One could also argue how realistic all of the science stuff is, but it's not really the point. This movie is made to entertain, not be a Space 101 class. And it does entertain: Gravity is one of the greatest technological achievements in modern movie-making, and one that could have reached perfection had the characters mattered more and the script be less typical. (B+)