REVIEW: Gravity

19 01 2014

The story of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” is quite simple. Astronaut Ryan Stone’s spaceship is obliterated by Russian satellite debris, and she must find her way back down to Earth or float away until her oxygen runs out. Only Murphy’s Law propels the narrative – that is to say, everything that can go wrong with technology will go wrong.

In a sense, this bare-bones script suits the film’s visual bravura perfectly. There are no flashbacks, no cutaways, and only minimal reference to Stone’s past. With nothing to distract, we are trapped with Stone. We’re left to share in her panic, breathe her remaining air, and drift through the starry void.

Total immersion is the only way that “Gravity” should ever be consumed; it’s such a shame some viewers will have to watch it on a television, a laptop, or even a cell phone that perhaps the film should never be released for home viewing. I found myself legitimately worried that pieces of flying shuttle shrapnel were going to fly off the screen and harm me when I saw the film in 3D. For how extensively the film utilizes the technology, it only once resorts to gimmickry of tricks with space.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

That’s largely due to the virtuosic direction of Alfonso Cuarón. At a remarkably slender 94 minutes, he directs (and also edits) a tightly calculated tome where every moment is executed with scary precision. He finds a form that fits the kind of psychological effect he seeks: long takes, often times lasting several minutes. If Stone can’t escape this nightmare, why should we? He often alternates shots from her POV with vast landscapes of the earth below, where humans hover over like a dot.

The voyage unfolds in sequences that echo both experimental film and the aesthetic of a video game, often simultaneously. To declare it purely avant-garde or only a theme park ride is to miss the point. “Gravity” is a clever pastiche of the summer blockbuster with the oblique existentialism of art film, playing at different levels for various audiences that approach it.

And the thread that ties it all together is director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki’s sublime lensing. In “The Tree of Life,” his camera could glide with an ethereal grace. In “Gravity,” however, he somehow figures out how to escape the pull of gravity and float like a feather. His contribution is perhaps the most crucial to achieving the engrossing effect for which Cuarón aims, and together they soar into the stratosphere of cinematic wonder.  B+ / 3stars


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2 responses

19 01 2014
jjames36

Good review. A very great visual accomplishment!

20 01 2014
Marshall

“Very great” hardly does it justice, haha! But all the technical Oscars it’s going to win will certainly provide said justice.

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