“Cuaron and Bullock Defy ‘Gravity’”
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Wow. I mean, wow. It’s been a few days since I saw Alfonso Cuaron’s breathtaking, beautiful, super-intense and awe-inspiring “Gravity” for the second time in IMAX 3-D, and I’m still blown away by the experience. You will be too, so brace yourself for the cinematic thrill ride of your sweet life.
It’s just what the doctor ordered for more jaded moviegoers who have gotten used to the computer-generated special effects that tend to dominate many of today’s sci-fi thrillers, fantasies and comic book-based superhero adaptations. For the first time in a very long while, you’ll sit on the edge of your seat, wide-eyed with wonder, and ask “How’d they do that?” Actually, you’ll probably ask yourself that question over and over again, since Cuaron’s long-awaited follow-up to 2006’s brilliant, but criminally-underseen “Children of Men” is a trailblazing masterpiece that tops “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Star Wars,” “The Matrix” and “Avatar” as one of the great game-changers in Hollywood history.
Sandra Bullock plays medical engineer Ryan Stone, while George Clooney plays space veteran Matt Kowalski. While the astronauts are performing a routine spacewalk to repair the Hubble telescope, disaster strikes: high-speed debris from another destroyed satellite cripples their space shuttle, leaving them cut off from the earth and floating free in the vastness of space. With their oxygen supply running low, Stone and Kowalski are forced to endure one gripping race against time after another in their efforts to find another ride home. But anything that can go wrong does go wrong (and then some), so think “Apollo 13” on steroids, and you get the idea.
For a filmmaker known for pushing the cinematic boundaries with longer, uninterrupted takes (especially in “Children of Men”), Cuaron takes the process to an incredible level in “Gravity.” Three takes amount for more than a third of the 90-minute movie, while the first scene alone runs for 13 nonstop minutes. As impressive as that is, it also gives the space disaster epic a tremendous amount of realism, since this is undoubtedly as close as moviegoers will ever get to experiencing the weightless sensation of floating through space stations or tumbling end over end in the void.
Adding to that realism: there is no sound in space, and Cuaron stays true to that rule by making the soundtrack do all the work. Instead of employing all the usual crashes and explosions found in space-set action thrillers, composer Steven Price uses electronics and acoustic instruments to accentuate the dramatic spectacle. But the musical score is also rousing and beautifully effective, since it hits all the right emotional notes.
Fortunately, the technical prowess of “Gravity” doesn’t overwhelm what is ultimately a powerful, profound, life-affirming story, where the immediate danger is juxtaposed with moments of sublime beauty and existential reflection. And carrying the weight on her shoulders is Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock (Best Actress for 2009’s “The Blind Side”), who gives a tour de force, career-defining performance. She deftly balances physical commitment, emotional vulnerability, intelligence, resourcefulness and strength, and it’s refreshing to see a strong role like this go to a woman when it could easily have gone to a man. George Clooney has far less screen time, but he’s still effective and proves that, even in space, he still knows how to turn on the charm.
Movies fly in and out of the cineplexes at light speed these days, but here’s hoping that “Gravity” will stay docked there for as long as possible. That’s because if there was any movie in recent years that stands as a trailblazing Hollywood groundbreaker that has to be seen on the big screen in IMAX 3-D, it’s this one. So, brace yourself for the ride of your sweet life, and get ready to ask yourself “How’d they do that?” over and over again.