Movie review: Gravity (3D)
Space. If we've learnt one thing from the films that have ventured into it, it's this: it's big. It's so big that no one knows where it starts or, like Adam Sandler's career (sadly), where it ends.
So, most filmmakers have tackled this issue of the vastness of space by filling it, with the likes of spaceships and aliens. And if box office returns are anything to go by, this has worked out pretty well for a number of sci-fi films.
For Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón's latest feature, he has sent Sandra Bullock and George Clooney out of our atmosphere and into the dark beyond. But instead of battling untold aliens and/or space pirates, he has them taking on, well, pretty much space itself.
Out in space, just hovering over planet Earth, are members of the crew of the shuttle Explorer, who are in the midst of some repairs to the Hubble telescope. Well, two of them are; Matt Kowalski (Clooney) appears to be having too much fun with his jet pack, filling the empty void with his enjoyable jibber jabber.
Ryan Stone (Bullock) is far less relaxed; she's nowhere near as experienced as her colleague is with the whole being in space thing, but she attempts to focus on the mission at hand regardless.
Mission control gives them the heads up regarding a mission that the Russians are up to on the other side of the planet (with the demolition of an outdated satellite), which may or may not have a slight knock-on effect with theirs. As it turns out, the message was a massive understatement, and the team are battered by its debris.
So much so that communications with Mission Control are lost and Stone and Kowalski soon find themselves floating nervously in space. They may well have the greatest view of Earth, but they're a very long way from home.
As you may have guessed by now, Gravity is far from being your average space romp. Much like the jet pack Clooney's character uses, the film is full of deliberate stops and starts; the stops allow you to enjoy the elegance and poetry of space, reminiscent of Moon and the classic Silent Running; the starts instantly bring you back down to Earth, as it were, as you're dramatically bombarded by the many perils of space.
Cuaron uses the universe as his canvas, suspending his characters literally in the middle of it all. During the film's many down times, you can't help but marvel at the beauty and the spectacle of it all. On a large screen, in 3D, it's like gazing out at the stars from your own private planetarium.
And then you have the scenes full of tension. It's similar in certain ways to Buried, the film that found Ryan Reynolds buried alive for the entire film; the setting may well be ironically inverse, what with the characters swimming around in all that space and all, but the same base sensation of severe claustrophobia exists. These tense moments achieved by the director are hardly original, but his execution of them is so effective, it's almost as if he invented them.
He's certainly helped by Bullock's sterling performance. She plays her character as an everyman; she may well be a highly-skilled scientist in her field, but she's as vulnerable as the next non-astronaut would be to the vastness of space. It's certainly more Oscar-worthy than her Oscar-winning turn in the bland The Blind Side, that's for sure.
Mind you, she's ably supported by Clooney, in more ways than one, throughout; Clooney drifts in and out effortlessly, with his affable charm oozing into outer space.
The science behind it all may well come under scrutiny of cinematic conspiracists, as to whether this or that would be really feasible in space, but they should just have their life support systems unplugged as to not spoil things.
Gravity is sc-fi film that relies on a minimum of science. Instead, it is a story of human endeavour; how one woman copes with the extreme emotion and physical pressures of being in space. Think Ripley without the aliens.
It is a film that will fill you with awe, but also, if you let it, it literally take your breath away.
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