Movie Review: Gravity
Gravity hit the world in August, with theater releases in the US on October 4, 2013 (the day of the writing of this article) - and is it ever a hit. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), it spent four years in development because of the high-reaching visuals and CGI. With a budget of $80 million and big name stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, this film was already certain to get some attention. And none of that attention was undeserved.
Be warned, this review does contain some spoilers, particularly in the "plot" and "characters" sections!
The plot is simple and easy enough to follow - actually, it's very simple, so don't expect many twists and turns or engaging storylines. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as astronauts who, after a damaged satellite causes a storm of debris, are the only survivors from their damaged space shuttle. They are trapped in space with limited oxygen and resources, and must navigate through zero-gravity to the neighboring Russian and Chinese space stations to get home.
It isn't that the adventure is boring. Every step forward leads to some other obstacle - be it lack of fuel, fiery explosions, deadly shrapnel, or simply dealing with the elements of space. If anything, the obstacles might start to feel stacked on, with one thing after another bordering on comical if the viewer hasn't been sufficiently integrated into the movie. Almost everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and without a cast of characters - there are only two - the plot can get redundant.
On the other hand, the plot presents itself as an emotional journey that complements the physical, with leading character Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) directing the audience with how she overcomes her turmoils. Some taglines have suggested that this film tries to balance religious faith and science - that claim is a reach, as religion is very hardly present in the film, but some shots of images of Buddha and Jesus in the Chinese and Russian shuttles do suggest that Stone is looking for courage and faith, if not in any religious outlet, in herself - balancing the struggles of both her past and present to find the will to push herself beyond what she thought her limits were to get back down to Earth.
Score: 8/10, mainly for the awesome feeling at the climax.
Did you know..?
Sandra Bullock wasn't the first choice for this movie. Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman had all been cast or considered, but none of them were able to do it.
As I've said, this movie features two characters. That is, it features two actors - Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I'm not sure if the cast list even tops more than five, and of those other "characters", they are very simply radio voices (from the control center mainly, or very briefly, another astronaut). There are also a few bodies. I can't make it clear enough, as this isn't an exaggeration - the only people we see face and voice of is Bullock and Clooney.
Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a computer scientist who recently went through a space training program to use her skills on satellites. She is on her first space expedition. Clooney plays Matt Kowalski, a veteran astronaut who, opposite of Ryan, is on his final mission.
Of the two, only one character is really fleshed out, and that's Ryan. Clooney's character is a laid-back, chatty and all around good guy who handles the horrifying situation with calm and rationality. It's not even clear why Kowalski is so calm, though he balances Stone's panic. Though he is certainly likeable enough, he doesn't develop or reveal himself beyond what he appears to be at the beginning. And - another warning for spoilers - he sort of disappears halfway through the movie in a somewhat cliché "let go of my hand, I'm too heavy" falling off the cliff type scene. It's implied that he's lost in space, probably dead, and there's no reunion or mention of his survivor thereafter.
Stone, on the other hand, is more developed - though not particularly unique as a character. As a studied and hard-working doctor, she is a bit cold, and implied to be without friends or family. Why? Her preschool toddler died in a freak accident. Bullock absolutely delivers the character believably, but "hardened parent who lost their kid" is a bit of a trope. Considering most of the movie is her alone in the emptiness of space, it's difficult to mold this into anything greater. However, the backstory justifies the emotional journey, as Stone is inclined to throw in the towel and admit defeat, she has to find the will to endure and ultimately, live.
Score: 7/10, and a score that high is basically riding on Bullock's amazing acting
Most of the budget went toward visuals, and it isn't difficult to imagine why. The movie takes place in outer space, and as such, contrary to the misnomer of a title, there isn't actually any gravity involved. The actors float around, as well as the props, and meticulate attention has clearly been spent getting every hair, every breath against the glass of the astronaut's helmet, and every camera pan over the earth and sun perfect. Sandra Bullock floats so seamlessly through space, both in and out of her spacesuit, that you can't help but consider the possibility that it was actually filmed up there.
The movie relies on its visuals, aiming to be as artistic as it is scientific - though nothing up there seems quite as beautiful as the final shot of Sandra Bullock stepping on the land of our very own Earth.
Gravity has a full original soundtrack composed by Steven Price. As hauntingly beautiful as the tracks are, viewers will probably remember more the director's keen use of sound - and lack thereof. When the movie suddenly goes silent to illustrate how sound cannot travel in space, it's almost as poignant as the soundtrack itself. That isn't to say the soundtrack won't put chills down your back - especially the finale piece, aptly entitled "Gravity."
Though this movie is advertised as a Sandra Bullock and George Clooney show, Clooney loses his relevance early on. Clooney's acting is certainly fine, though he is significantly less interesting than Bullock, as he shows little variety in deliverance and emotion - though that is certainly no fault of Clooney's.
Bullock, on the other hand, asserts her place as an actor of the highest class. I admit, I hadn't really gotten over associating Bullock with romantic comedies and other lighthearted movies, despite her strong performances in films such as Blindside. She's always been a good actress but I was mostly indifferent toward her, though she stars in a few films I've liked. But don't let the advertisements mislead you: Gravity is the Bullock show, and the Bullock show alone. If Bullock doesn't have an Oscar in her hand for this performance, there is great injustice in the world - but seriously, she's going to win an Oscar, and probably no one will be mad about that.
Score: 10/10, for Queen Bullock alone.
This movie, though simple in characters and plot, is one that lives up to its name. It stays with you. It inspires at the end, heralding the theme of living life instead of coasting by, and does a great job of making you appreciate the ground you walk on and the air you breathe. It also should be recognized for starring a woman without involving romance - or starring a woman in a space drama, period. Sandra Bullock touches your heart as she touches the earth, and leaves you thinking about what to do with your life - though perhaps "become an astronaut" falls a few spots on the list.
Overall score: 8.8/10