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I saw Gravity
October 18, 2013Posted by on
When Gravity was delayed from fall 2012 to fall 2013 in order to spend more time polishing the massive amount of special effects work, it was just another piece of bad luck in a long line of bad luck for the somewhat troubled production. Back in 2010, several actresses in the running for the lead dropped out, including Angelina Jolie, who left the production to work on her first feature film as a director instead. Robert Downey, Jr. was slated to co-star as the male lead, but ultimately left the project as well (to star in a Shawn Levy movie that never ended up being made, no less). Universal Pictures, flustered with the production issues, eventually dumped the rights to the film to Warner Bros. after several false starts and the notable lack of leads. I imagine Universal execs are kicking themselves right about now.
When Sandra Bullock and George Clooney eventually signed on to play the lead roles in Gravity, the 100 million dollar budgeted feature (a rather modest budget for a contemporary sci-fi pic) quickly became interesting again. Hot off of Oscar success (Bullock won in early ’10 for The Blind Side and Clooney was nominated the same year for Up in the Air), the two almost immediately lent an air of credibility to the production that it had lacked since Jolie bowed out of the project. Director Alfonso Cuaron, who no doubt saw Gravity as a sort of passion project (it would be his first feature film directing credit since 06’s Children of Men), no doubt now had the prospect of commercial success as well as a welcoming critical reception in his sights. When the film finally debuted a few weeks back on October 4th, it comfortably found both.
Disaster films rarely have too complicated plots, and Gravity is no exception (in a good way, mind you). Tasked with servicing a broken-down Hubble Space Telescope, Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock, expertly playing a flawed character) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney, charming as ever as the second lead) are informed by Mission Control that rogue space debris, the remains of a recently destroyed Russian satellite, are heading toward them at an alarming rate. Unable to get back to the shuttle Explorer in time, the two barely survive a cataclysmic accident that causes catastrophic damage. The Explorer itself is damaged beyond repair, the rest of the crew is dead, and Stone and Kowalski are left on their own to survive in the deep, empty vacuum of outer space, low on oxygen and with few precious resources.
Gravity is an interesting film to say the least. Exploring themes like isolation, faith, helplessness, and family, Gravity is a sort of lost at sea-style disaster film meets a grand, science fiction special effects extravaganza. There have been films that have fit this criteria in the past (notably 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the benchmark by which all cerebral sci-fi is judged), and the screenplay isn’t exactly superbly polished by any stretch, but Gravity is a stunning and gripping film with two impeccable performances, astonishing special effects, the best use of 3D since Avatar (I know that phrase gets overused but its true this time), as well as an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride. There isn’t a single boring or un-beautiful shot in the entire movie. Cuaron’s science fiction disaster film is pretty amazing.
If there is weakness to be found, it is definitely in the film’s script. The screenplay doesn’t always hit the heights of the acting, directing, and special effects. There’s a lot of “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” as well as “Houston, we have a problem” going on, which is just a bit too clichéd (even if it’s done somewhat tongue-in-cheek at moments) for a space movie at this point. Fortunately, Clooney and Bullock bring their characters to life in the absolute best acting so far this year. It will be a shame if Bullock doesn’t win her second Oscar for her performance in particular. There is a notable scene of Bullock alone, on a Soyuz capsule, speaking over radio with an unknown man who communicates via foreign language she cannot understand. The moment so perfectly captures Dr. Stone’s isolation, fear, and frustration and it is a beautifully acted moment of, if not happiness, then temporary relief for Bullock’s character. Moments like these in the acting overcome the shortcomings of some of the dialogue in the end.
Gravity is a damn near flawless science fiction film in almost every category, but especially in terms of its directing and special effects. The visuals are simply eye-popping. This is one of the few films worth the extra IMAX admission cost. Though Gravity started as a troubled production, the end result is a huge critical and commercial success for Warner Bros., who now have a worldwide hit on their hands. I have to imagine the film will be nominated for numerous end of year awards, and I sincerely hope that Cuaron, a fantastic working director, is afforded more opportunities to be experimental with his direction and special effects in future projects. Bullock and Clooney shine in their roles as well, with Bullock giving perhaps the year’s best performance in a film by a female lead. Gravity is a pretty amazing film, and one of the best science fiction films to be released in years.