Taking the notion of immersive cinema to a whole new level, Alfonso Cuarón’s awesome 3D space thriller is a film that provokes a bodily response from start to finish.
Jaw-dropping wonder, dizzying vertigo, heart-stopping tension, spine-tingling shocks and visceral fear: Gravity stimulates them all. Sandra Bullock’s novice astronaut, the film’s desperately imperilled protagonist, has her vital signs being monitored. And that probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for the viewer, too.
Bullock’s medical engineer Ryan Stone is on her first space mission, tinkering with the Hubble telescope hundreds of miles above the Earth when the film opens, while George Clooney’s NASA veteran Matt Kowalski flies around her, trying out a whizzy new jet pack. Then calamity strikes. The Russians have shot down one of their own spy satellites and the exploding fragments have set off a chain reaction of hurtling debris, lethal shrapnel that destroys the Americans’ shuttle, stranding them in the abyss of space. Can they find a way back to Earth?
With Cuarón, co-writing with his son Jonás, setting off his own chain reaction of narrative crises, the ensuing drama is incredibly gripping but stretches credulity further than an astronaut’s tether line. In places, the drama slides dangerously close to mawkishness and Steven Price’s score is often overblown.
Yet these flaws seem trivial when set alongside the film’s astonishing technical and aesthetic achievements. In long seamless takes, Cuarón, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and the visual effects experts at London’s Framestore have created sequences of vertiginous excitement and breathtaking beauty.
There are remarkable shots where the filmmakers’ virtual camera passes imperceptibly from the outside of Bullock’s helmet to the inside looking out, our heartbreakingly lovely blue planet sometimes below her, sometimes above, as she spins perilously in space.
The spectacle is often disorienting but the actors’ performances anchor us, with Bullock’s gutsy resilience and Clooney’s folksy charm giving the film its human touch.
Plot contrivances notwithstanding, watching Gravity is an overwhelming experience. Even real astronauts have given it the thumbs up. For the rest of us, this is the closest we’ll ever come to being in space.
Certificate 12. Runtime 91 mins. Director Alfonso Cuarón.