For those of you who know me or follow my work, you know that my recommending the 3D version of a film is a shocking departure from my normal stance. It is fair to say that I am vehemently opposed to the technology as a whole. But every so often a movie comes around that uses the technology not as a crutch or a gimmick but as an actual story-telling device that works with rather than apart from the rest of the film. To date, I have attached this exception to three films: Avatar, Hugo, and Life of Pi. Gravity now becomes the fourth member of that group while simultaneously setting itself so far apart from those films as to make me feel foolish for ever applauding their merits.
While on a final spacewalk to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, bio-medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), debris from a Russian satellite explosion rips through their orbit, destroying their space shuttle and leaving them stranded. With a limited oxygen supply and only a thruster pack with which to operate, Stone and Kowalski must make their way to the International Space Station before the debris comes through again and ruins any chance they might have at survival.
In an industry that is becoming increasingly dominated by home viewing options, it has become important (at least to me) to identify the films that need to be seen in a theater and those that can wait for your flat screen at home. A movie like The Way, Way Back which I love can be viewed and appreciated just as much at home as it can in a theater but some movies beg to be seen on the big screen. Gravity takes this a bit farther in that it demands to be seen on the biggest screen you can possibly find and in 3D no less. I’ll go so far as to say that if you wait until this film reaches DVD/Blu-Ray before you see it, you won’t even be seeing the same movie I partook in on Thursday night. It is THAT important that you get to Gravity as soon as possible.
Gravity’s plot could not be any simpler and yet writer-director-genius-visionary Alfonso Cuaron is able to wring more out of it than most directors pull from the most complex of narratives. This is all about the human will to survive, it just happens to be set against the backdrop of the most incredible starscape (possibly a word I just made up) you will ever see. Cuaron’s actors are both outstanding (and yes, I said both because there are basically only two characters in this film) and deserve special mention. Clooney’s is much more of a supporting performance than you might guess but he is his usual, charming, ridiculously focused self. And Bullock, I believe unquestionably, will see her name on just about every Best Actress award list the industry has to offer. This is by far the most human Bullock has ever seemed and as a result, her performance is powerful and reflexive. But with all due respect to both Clooney and Bullock, Gravity’s stars are Cuaron and his camera.
The shots Cuaron puts on display are some of the most outstanding examples of what you can do with a camera that I have ever seen. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Gravity is propelled by the best cinematography I have ever seen in a film. Ever. EVER, you guys. I’ve watched hundreds, if not thousands, of space-related films and Cuaron does things in this movie that don’t even seem possible. If you didn’t know better, you might think Gravity is a documentary shot with the most advanced camera ever invented. Cuaron uses his setting to great and sometimes devastating effect, creating an insane level of intensity that jumps off in the opening moments and carries over literally to the very last frame of the movie. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be stranded in space, Gravity has the answers for you and they are chilling and haunting but nonetheless breathtaking.
All of this makes Gravity an unquestionably strong film. I would take it a step further. If I had to choose right here and now, I think I would feel good about calling Gravity one of the ten best movies I have ever seen. Given the scale of the film, given the difficulty of the subject matter, given the way in which Cuaron brought it all together with the best camerawork I have witnessed to date, it belongs in a special category. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece. But again, this brilliance absolutely will not translate to a 42 inch Samsung. Find an IMAX screen and pony up the extra cash for a 3D showing and buckle up for a ride that is just as much experience as it is movie. Grade: A+ (Rated PG-13 for seriously extreme intensity and some language)