In 1977, the underbelly of a huge star destroyer engulfed the screen.
In 1978, a man in blue tights and a red cape flew across the screen.
In 1981, a guy in a fedora with a bullwhip kicked ass onscreen.
In 1982, a short squat alien became the friend everyone wanted to have.
In 1993, dinosaurs came back to life onscreen.
In 2001, a fellowship, a Balrog, and a weird little green guy with a ring fetish dominated the screen.
What does any of this have to do with Gravity, you ask? Well, the aforementioned films all instilled a sense of jaw-dropping amazement in me, validated my decision to go into film and video as a career, and made me love the medium of film. Here, in 2013, is the film that does that same thing for me all over again. From the very first frame of Earth’s horizon in space that encompasses a screen nearly three stories high (oh, it’s a given you’re seeing this in IMAX, right?), the jaw drops and doesn’t relax for the next hour and a half. Walking out of this completely immersive experience, I felt like I had just gone through an advanced course in space aeronautics.
How did director Alfonso Cuaron manage to get such long unbroken shots that are incredibly realistic? How did cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski get his camera to do the things it did? How did George Clooney and Sandra Bullock prepare for what must have been the most grueling wirework in any movie ever? How is it that the two leads (plus the obligatory Red Shirt* character) look convincingly weightless in space? How does Bullock come off the uninspired, albeit hugely successful film The Heat, looking ragged and then in the same year, knock it out of the park in this film and even manage to outshine Sigourney Weaver in a pair of shorty-shorts? Going in, I wasn’t thrilled about seeing Bullock, who I really have only liked in Speed (1994) and Crash (2004) (what an interesting coincidence, those two titles) and I liked her in Demolition Man, early in her career. I was thinking how great it would be to see Julianne Moore or Jodie Foster (who really stunk it up in Elysium) in this role. But Sandra Bullock, who essentially is playing Sandra Bullock with all the familiar tics and stutters, nails it. George Clooney comes off as slightly cocky and a little sexist, but given that I’ve just partially conflated Bullock’s performance with her ability to fill out a pair of shorts, I don’t have much leg to stand on. And hey, it’s Clooney, one of our last great male leads. Short of Batman And Robin , I’ll cut him some slack.
The story is pretty simple. Two astronauts are on a mission to repair the Hubble telescope when debris from a demolished Russian satellite in orbit rampages towards them and causes havoc. I think it was Newton who determined that a body in motion stays in motion. Well, as there is no friction in space, a body going in excess of 20,000 mph with nothing to slow it down is not a good thing. And when said object smashes into another object creating more debris going at 20,000 mph, it’s definitely not a good thing. For the duration of this film, which at only 90 minutes, seemed much longer (and I mean that in a good way), Clooney and Bullock have to find a means to return back to Earth.
Earth, which looks at once beautiful and absolutely terrifying in the opening shot. This movie makes it clear that the most mundane things we take for granted here on terra firma can quickly become deadly in space. Simply breathing in and out too fast, air pressure, atmosphere, a spark of flame no bigger than the head of a match can mean the difference between life and immediate death. I used to think that I would gladly take a trip into space if afforded the opportunity, no question in my mind. Ironically, despite the real and actual tragedy of the 1986 Challenger mission, it’s this movie that has me thinking, hmmm, maybe I would think twice about that.
This is a must-see movie and if I haven’t put a fine enough point on it yet, let me emphasize once again that it must be seen in IMAX 3D. If, as posited by Star Trek, space is the final frontier and it’s doubtful that I’ll ever make it up there, then this film is the next best thing and safest means of getting there. And once it’s released on Blu-ray, I’ll be re-visiting the final frontier from the safety of my couch over and over again.
*It’s a Star Trek reference. For a mild spoiler, look it up.
Note: I’ve heard tell of critics, mostly scientists and engineers I believe, complaining how the film is not realistic because the debris is travelling in the wrong direction for geosynchronous orbit, and also because Bullock’s hair should be floating in zero-gravity. I suspect this is why her hair is bobbed in the film, as an attempt at addressing this issue, because it would be more than a little distracting to see long hair fanning out in every shot. But I would also say this to the critics: Where have you been since the mid-1960s, when the USS Enterprise first travelled in space? How about the late 70s, when the Millennium Falcon and TIE fighters were audibly whooshing through space and firing lasers (laser is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation). Yet there’s no light in space per se (visible light in space is due to reflection off an object or atmosphere, otherwise light passes through the void of space, which is why space is dark). There’s definitely no sound. Yet you come forward in 2013 to criticize Sandra Bullock’s hair?