You might already think this is a new science fiction movie starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but you’d only be right about the actors. It’s a fictional story, but the science in it is quite real, and is about things that astronauts actually do today. Let’s call it a space movie.
A space movie with a very simple story. The three spacewalking folks we first meet have been up there for a week, doing their business on the Explorer shuttle, making their repairs outside, nearing the end of their work, and preparing to come back home.
The opening shot is kind of a calling card for director Alfonso Cuaron, who lets his camera run on and on, without a cut, for something like seven minutes, during which we meet Mission Commander Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) and Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Bullock) and a third NASA member who we only see in the distance, and might as well be wearing a red shirt.
Cuaron and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki enjoy going for long shots and little editing, as they did in “Y tu mama tambien,” though that was literally a little shaky, and to stunning effect in “Children of Men.” That first long shot here, up in space, with Earth looming in the background, in spectacular. Much later, there’s an interior scene that starts sometime around the point that Bullock says the word “Mayday,” and it just goes, without an edit, giving us a terrifically staged sequence that’s pushed forward by terrific acting.
She says “Mayday” because things have gone very wrong. The Russian space folks screw up the demolition of one of their own satellites, resulting in the incredibly fast-moving space debris that introduces terror to the story. It’s a really off-putting effect to see such rampant destruction and not be able to hear a sound. Frightening stuff, nicely shot in 3D, that puts the story of survival in space on track, initially with some purposely casual banter from veteran astronaut Kowalsky, who knows he’s got to get rattled first-timer Stone to stay focused.
Clooney eventually pretty much turns the film over to Bullock, who in turn spends a great deal of time talking to herself. They’re two very strong performances, but a lot of viewers are going to be too blown away by what’s going on visually in the film to pay enough attention to the fine acting – well, that should be taken care of around Oscar nomination time.
The last time weightlessness looked so real was in “Apollo 13,” but that was a film that didn’t have extended takes. Through lots of trickery, including some wires, some robotic creations, a bit of animation, and the assistance of a few puppeteers who were moving the actors’ limbs around, this is a completely believable simulation of zero gravity.
Page 2 of 2 - The film is relatively short, zipping by in 91 minutes, made fascinating by cameras that keep moving along with the almost-always floating and spinning characters, a visual gracefulness, and accompanying music that shifts between being soothing and unsettling.
Those getting tired of 3-D movies, needn’t be concerned about this one. The process is used in a whole different way here, in that most of it is done under claustrophobic conditions, and gives off an unusual sense of dimensionality.
Still, even with all of its gadgets and gimmicks and visual splendor, “Gravity” remains a meditation on survival, on the will to live, and the triumph of the spirit.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron; directed by Alfonso Cuaron
With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney