By Benjamin Lane
Gravity. (2013). Run time: 91 mins. MPAA: PG-13 (for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language). Starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
“It’s the best space film ever done,” says James Cameron, director of some minor movies you’ve probably never heard of; you know, movies like Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, Avatar, etc. So, is the papa of big budget movies right? Well, he isn’t far off. Gravity is a soaring achievement, a spectacle unlike anything before it, a visual masterpiece, and one of the best directed films I’ve ever seen. Whew, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I can dig a little deeper into Gravity and discuss it as a film, and not just an entertaining form of visual escapism.
At this point, Gravity has been playing for a couple weeks in theaters. I did see the film opening weekend, but just haven’t had time to put the review up. As of now, I have seen it twice, and my opinion has not changed. It is a masterpiece. It’s not a perfect movie, but a masterpiece nonetheless. Directed, produced and co-written by Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity is an incredibly, sometimes deceptively simple story. An astronaut and a mission specialist are in space working on what astronauts work on, when debris from the collision of a satellite and a meteor shower enter their zone. One of them becomes detached, and the two have to struggle to stay alive in an atmosphere with zero gravity. That’s it. Nothing behind the lines, really, although there are some thematically obvious themes throughout regarding the human spirit, the will to stay alive, friendship, and spirituality. It’s multi-layered, yet so simple.
George Clooney and Sandra Bullock are two of the only three people that are actually in this movie physically, excluding some people inside the Explorer (their shuttle) who are never actually seen in action and the voice of the aptly cast Ed Harris as the voice of Mission Control. Clooney, in his first major role since the self directed The Ides of March in 2011, gives a relatively good performance here, even though the script doesn’t really allow his character to do very much. He is funny, he is smart, he is central; basically, he is his own person in astronaut form. Clooney is a great actor. Not only that, but a great director. I think we’ve all learned to forgive him for Leatherheads, but Good Night and Good Luck, The Ides of March, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The guy has serious talent behind the camera. I can’t wait to see what he does with The Monuments Men later this year. In Gravity, though, he is under another director, the first time for that since The Descendants in 2011, which in my opinion is one of his better films. With this film, as I said earlier, the script doesn’t allow much for Clooney, but he does enough to supply a good performance. The star of the show, however, is Sandra Bullock. She is terrific. It’s not too often a movie is hinged on one central character like Gravity. Bullock is electric. Maybe the Oscars will recognize her, maybe not. But if so, she earned it. She gives the best female performance of this year so far.
Oh, but where would Gravity be without Alfonso Cuaron? This guy is a master. He provided the best of the Harry Potter movies with The Prisoner of Azkaban, and he crafted one of the best directed films I’ve ever seen, Children of Men. That makes two Cuaron directed films that I regard as some of the best directed of all time. That’s impressive. What makes Cuaron so special? Long takes. How about that birth scene in Children of Men? Or the scene in the car. Or walking through the building. Psh. Those have nothing on Gravity. Try a 17 minute long opening shot, completely unbroken. That’s right, 17 minutes. it may just be one of the most impressive scenes in movie history. I simply don’t know how Cuaron did it. It takes a lot of planning, work on the actors’ part, and incredible precision. But they did it, and my jaw was dropped the entire time. I still can’t believe it. It’s one of the most stunning scenes I’ve ever witnessed. The atmosphere of Gravity is entirely convincing, with gorgeous visions of earth seen from space and the stars that hover around it. It truly is a beautiful looking film. The way the movie progresses, then eventually ends, is wondrous. The final shot of this film, paired with the extraordinary score by Steven Price sent chills down my spine. It’s breathtaking.
As I said, though, Gravity is not perfect. It’s all in the script. I almost feel the film would work better if it were silent. No talking. At least after the first half. It suffers from those typical scenes of the lone character talking out loud when no one is around just to let the audience know what is going on. It makes sense, sure, but it just feels awkward. Also, the film creeps a bit into emo territory too often, and at around 90 minutes in length, there just isn’t time for any of that. I’m not saying I want a non stop action ride, but when there isn’t time for emotional complexity that can’t be expanded on, don’t bring it into the film. Maybe I’m just heartless. But I don’t think so. All I’m saying is, when it shifted to Bullock talking about her child, especially when she’s alone, it felt forced and awkward. So, while Gravity is a visual miracle, don’t buy into the hype right now that it is a flawless movie. I feel it will turn out a bit like Avatar. When it was released, everyone thought it was a perfect movie because it looked cool, but now no one likes it as much. Granted, Gravity is better than Avatar, yes, but still. It’s not perfect.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Visuals aren’t everything. A movie requires a good story to propel it all. However, Alfonso Cuaron pushes that logic to its very limits with Gravity. It sometimes creeps into emo territory a little too heavily, but you won’t care. It’s a 90 minute thrill ride that proves that visuals just may be enough to propel a movie. It features one of the most shocking scenes in cinematic history in its opening 17 minutes, some of the best post-conversion 3D, and some of the best visual effects in a space movie, or any movie for that matter. Gravity, while not perfect, is a visual masterpiece.