Gravity (film review)
Warner Bros. Pictures
1 hr. 31 mins.
Starring: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Ed Harris and Phaldut Sharma
Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Science Fiction/Space Fantasy/Drama/Mystery & Suspense
Critic’s rating: **** stars (out of 4 stars)
If anything else, the movie-going experience should pander to our visual expectations in the omnipresent genre of Science Fiction. The technological excellence, the sheer opulence of the state-of-the-art special effects, the spell-binding tension, the imagination and wonderment of a compelling narrative, the overall sophistication of escapist entertainment, intriguing and charismatic lead performers all make for a sumptuous concoction at the cinema. There have not been many space-aged vehicles where the combination of eye-popping beauty matches the tranquil rush of terror and conflict that dares to overtly sensitize the nerve endings.
In filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s enchanting 3-D space thriller ‘Gravity’, we get a dazzling taste of what filmmaking can aspire to when creative storytelling is invested in a stunning display of space-aged survival. Vibrantly adventurous and accomplished, ‘Gravity’ gives hope to the masses out there in Science Fiction/fantasy land that contemporary ‘out-of-this-world’ fables can be viscerally arresting in developmental scope beyond the popcorn-pleasing pap.
Writer-director Cuaron (‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’, ‘Children Of Men’, ‘Harry Potter And The Prince of Azkaban’) manages the awesome task of serving up an exhilarating production while experimenting with techno-trickery that gives ‘Gravity’ its gorgeous allure. In this day and age of advanced big-budgeted moviemaking, it really is impressive for Cuaron to convey the ‘WOW’ factor in how he delivers the magnificent sheen of his mesmerising star-ridden sideshow.
Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney lend their box office credibility to this spine-tingling space saga as a couple of astronauts out in the middle of nowhere while inviting the nail-biting, perilous excitement. Brilliant medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) is on her first space mission that requires her to repair the satellite malfunctions along with another colleague in Shariff (Phaldut Sharma). Veteran NASA astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) — who’s about to retire — is along for the ride as he oversees Dr. Stone’s mechanical duties. The first shuttle flight for Dr. Stone and final one for Kowalski seems cosy for the time being. In fact, Kowalski finds time to kid around to ease the overall seriousness of their outer space agenda.
Sadly, things start to go awry for the space travelers. Mission Control (voiced by Ed Harris) issues an urgent warning as to what just occurred and suggests that the crew abort their activities. The conflict in question: the Russians have targeted one of their spy satellites for immediate elimination. The result of this dire action spells disaster for the trio as the exploding parts from the Russian spy satellite turns into threatening debris heading towards the American shuttle Explorer. Inevitably, the damage has been done. Poor Shariff is killed and Stone and Kowalski are hurled into the middle of the pitch dark seemingly lost forever and the Explorer is destroyed.
Alone in the massive galaxy floating aimlessly, Kowalski and Stone just have each other to keep company as they drift and figure out how to get back home if that option is remotely possible. The oxygen is limited and chances are that a new wave of remaining debris could be heading their way to finish them off permanently. Are they resilient enough to figure out what to do with their undeniable plight?
The tense situations, the majestic landscape of barren space, the eerie sense of claustrophobic creepiness and unspoken layers of anxiety are all piled on so skilfully as Cuaron provides the vivid arena of polished blackness to allow moviegoers to get as swept away in the meditative mayhem as Clooney and Bullock’s stranded space dwellers. The mind-blowing sequences are surreal and fabulously picturesque. Cuaron take the audience on a spectacular journey laced with textured elements of elegance and mischief.
Middle-aged megastars Clooney and Bullock effectively convey the curiosities, concerns and courageousness of their characters’ precarious dilemma with astounding believability of stress-induced proportions. Bullock’s Dr. Stone is a professional but one cannot help but feel for her sense of helplessness and despair with every showcase displaying shortness of breath and the icy glare of her nervous eyes. They are the resilient tandem suspended in the magnetic CGI-oriented bliss of Cuaron’s jaw-dropping cosmic caper. What our heroic wanderers want is to go home and touch the Earth’s soil, it does not have to American soil as far as they are concerned. Symbolically, Cuaron does not even offer them the slightest hint of a planetary outline thus depriving them a sense of beginning while having them possibly contemplating an unforeseeable end.
‘Gravity’ is certainly more than its wondrous package of technological achievement. The human feelings of hopelessness and the instinctual need to exist in the madness of fear and frustration is the calling card that really gives this game-changing gem its captivating conviction.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: