Review: Gravity (2013) — Bringing Art Back to the Multiplex; an Out-of-This-World Big-Screen Experience


From Oscar-nominated Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity is the long-awaited directorial follow-up to the filmmaker’s acclaimed and ground-breaking dystopian science-fiction film Children of Men, released all the way back in 2006. Seven years is a long time between films — especially with the buzz that Children of Men generated with audiences — but thankfully Gravity is every bit the worthy continuation in Cuarón’s stellar filmography (which also includes the best Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Gravity is minimalist sci-fi at its best: veteran astronaut Kowalski (George Clooney) leads his final space expedition and finds himself guiding rookie engineer Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) on her first. When debris irreparably damages their shuttle during a space-walk, the duo find themselves at the mercy of the vast isolation of space with time, and oxygen, running out and obstacles mounting.

No kidding, the WHOLE MOVIE looks like this!

No kidding, the WHOLE MOVIE looks like this!

Gravity is a visually transcendent film: amongst the best looking films in the past ten years, potentially amongst the best of all time. Cuarón made a name for himself with Children of Men with his complex visual compositions and unusually long shot takes. Gravity steps this up to another level; the opening shot of the film is a staggering 13 minutes without cuts! Considering the number of camera movements in that single shot — which starts out serenely and winds up in total chaos — along with the awe-inspiring photography (courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life), it’s no wonder that Gravity has esteemed visual film-makers such as James Cameron and Rian Johnson gushing its praises.

I found it hard to distinguish where live-action ended and computer-generated images began; the film contains such skilful and fluid transitions which will ultimately make Cuarón’s film-making peers step up their game. I have seen many films and I know a bit about the film-making process, and Gravity is filled to the brim of effects and shots and I genuinely did not know how they were achieved. All reason why this film is a technical achievement, and is a genuine landmark in the 100-year plus history of cinema.

Cuarón creates depth in space by contrasting the space-stations and space-suits against the pitch black recesses of space, allowing the camera to freely roam amongst all the elements as if we were watching a nature documentary like on the Planet Earth TV series. Earth always remains beautifully in the background, reminding us that our characters are so close to home, yet further away than any other living human.

The narrative is basic but it’s everything it needs to be; a simple survival tale of the two astronauts trying their best in increasingly dire situations. What binds the movie is the unrelenting tension that Cuarón provides. He brings an intimacy to the vastness of space; his trademark long takes and extensive camera movements bring the audience directly into the situations on-screen, with the camera becoming a surrogate third-party, often-times inviting the audience into a first-person view of the action.

Earth's finest exports.

Earth’s finest exports.

There are only two faces seen in this entire film, Clooney and Bullock (with the voice of Mission Control provided by Ed Harris, a nice nod to Apollo 13). While Clooney is as serviceable as always, this film belongs to Bullock and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. She shows fear and vulnerability as a first-time astronaut, and when things go to hell, her personal tale of survival against the staggering odds is outstanding and is sure to attract some attention come awards season.

The sound design is authentic and moody; the film is very quiet in most places so the ambient noise of the oxygen tanks and the beeps and buzzes of the machinery add to the haunting and isolated setting. The score by Steven Price is also an ambient marvel, and is actually one of the better horror scores I’ve heard for a while. The audio could never equal the outstanding imagery, but was still an essential piece of the overall puzzle.

I’m not sure whether to label Gravity under science fiction of science fact; I’m sure that many elements are well beyond realism but it appears that much attention has been made to make it appear as authentic and grounded in reality (as grounded as you can be in space, anyway) as possible. Let’s just call it either a space-drama or a space-thriller. I’m partial to space-thriller.

This film is an experience, and it’s an event that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. IMAX 3D is ideal, and if you live in Melbourne you can view it on one of the biggest screens in the world. If you miss it at the cinemas, or if you are thinking of waiting for the home video release, you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Films like Gravity bring back the validity of the cinema experience.

Llama Score: 10While I am keen to avoid hyperbole, it would be amiss to say that Gravity will quickly find itself to the top of the greatest science fiction (space thriller) films of all time. It is beautifully shot and has a level of tension running throughout that is undeniably gripping. It is also an incredibly positive film, with a ‘anything is possible’ message to oppose the negative tone seen in many of its contemporaries.

Award: Golden Llama

Highlights Banner

– The 13-minute opening shot is the star of the show.

– White knuckle tension.

– Just look at it!

Lowlights Banner

– This is a mood film, please enter in the right frame of mind.

– I always leave the trailer after my reviews — as I do here — but I implore you to avoid them!

Further Viewing Banner

– 2001: A Space Odyssey

– Apollo 13

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón Written by: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonas Cuarón Produced by: David Heyman, Alfonso Cuarón Starring: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock Distributed by: Warner Bros. Run length: 89 minutes Australian Release: Out now in IMAX 3D and theatres
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