Friday, October 4, 2013

Gravity


GRAVITY - Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (91 min.)

As beautiful as it may be, I don't think I would ever want to be in space.  At least, not exposed to the treacherous nothingness of space with only a suit keeping me from death or being lost into infinity.  The view has to be life changing; to look at Earth from the outside must be surreal and overwhelming.  But is there a more dangerous place?  No air, no gravity, no sound, nothing.  So much nothing it is hard to comprehend.  Life in space, as we are told in the opening title cards to Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, is impossible.  This is where we spend ninety harrowing minutes, lost in space, lost in desperation, reaching for something, anything, to hold on to for fear of drifting out into the darkness forever.  Gravity is the closest I will ever come to spending time beyond the Earth's atmosphere.

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as Dr. Ryan Stone and Astronaut Matt Kowalski.  Bullock's Dr. Stone is a medical engineer who, through the assistance of Kowalski and his small crew, is installing some sort of medical technology upgrade on the Hubble Telescope.  All is well as Cuaron's camera drifts in and out of mundane procedural duties and encompasses the screen with wonderful scenes of the Earth in the background.  Kowalski is on his last mission and is enjoying his time floating around on a jet pack like a satellite around the telescope.  Stone is a bit more nervous as this is her first trip to the stars.  Before long, Houston warns the crew of a debris field that is heading their way at bullet speed.  They must abort and get out of harms way, but it is too late.

The debris crashes into the telescope and the shuttle, breaking apart the ship and sending even more debris into orbit.  The collisions are brutal and fast and appropriately soundless, accented only by a magnificent, pulsating score from Steven Price.  Price's work is the unsung hero in all this technical work, adding a layer of thrilling tension.  As pieces fly apart and explosions erupt and dissipate just as quickly with no oxygen, Stone must detach herself from the vessel and is sent hurtling into space, spinning end over end with nothing to grab hold of.  This first debris attack is a nerve jangling, stunning display of technical mastery by Cuaron.  As Stone floats helplessly into the nothingness, it is only the voice of Kowalski serving as any contact between her and certain death.

Without giving away much, I will say Stone is rescued initially and must hop from station to station to try and get back to Earth.  The initial debris is trapped in the planet's orbit and Kowalski deducts that at its rapid rate of speed it will be back to wreak more havoc every ninety minutes.  This is a brilliant set up for more violent collisions throughout the picture.  One setback follows another, more debris attacks hinder progress, creating an air of desperation in a place with no air to go around.  The world created by Cuaron here is like nothing I have ever seen.  Space has never been more accurately depicted as it is in Gravity.  The action is simply breathtaking.

While Bullock does a magnificent job as Dr. Stone, and is certainly in line for another Oscar nomination, the screenplay feels slight.  We learn bits and pieces about Stone, about her child who passed away and the origin of her masculine first name, enough to care about her situation, but nothing about the writing seems to balance the intense action and unmatched visual spectacle.  George Clooney is just playing a version of himself, George Clooney in a space suit.  Kowalski is your typical old school astronaut, a bit of a drinker with a few wives throughout his past, the life of the party who is full of stories.  Basically he is version of Jack Nicholson's character in Terms of Endearment, but his portrayal is decidedly flat and one dimensional.

Screenplay aside, Gravity is a technical and visual masterpiece, a film that absolutely must be seen on the big screen to be believed.  I don't even know if I could watch it on my TV at home after seeing it in the theater.  And I have never been an advocate for 3D as most of the conversions feel muddled and seem to shrink the action and distract; Gravity should absolutely be seen in 3D.  The canvas of this film transcends any explanation that would do it justice.  This is the film 3D technology has been waiting on, and it helped me see space in a more fully realized way than I ever will in my life.

B+