Somewhere around the 10 minute mark of Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” that incredibly rare feeling came over me; that the film I was watching would be unlike anything else I have seen before. It has been rightly said in the last few weeks that “Gravity” represents a substantial leap foreword in how special effects are integrated into cinematic storytelling. Like “Star Wars” or “Jurassic Park”, Curón’s visuals overwhelm the viewer with their seamless, consistent, we-are-in-uncharted-territory quality. See it in a theater on a big screen and see it in 3-D. See it in Imax if possible.
The film opens 600,000 feet above earth and for nearly it’s entire, brisk 90 minutes that is where it stays. The film’s greatest strength is the way the viewer is able to vicariously space-walk along with Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock in especially good form) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney seemingly being himself). The camera hovers and glides around the characters in such a way that it confounds. How did they do that? I wanted to yell that out several times. At times it almost seemed as though they were actually in space shooting the footage. It’s that good. Everything plays out in almost real time. It’s uncommonly sparse. Two people in space. They are working on some stuff outside of the space shuttle when some debris from a Russian anti-satellite test comes hurling at them. That’s it. And yet, it is positively gripping.
Unfortunately, the film’s biggest weakness is the dialogue that these two people sometimes exchange. Curón’s screenplay is occasionally weighed down with platitudes and soapy speeches (though Bullock in particular succeeds in providing us a character we care about) . Thankfully, the film is a mostly visual experience and he still manages to transport and rivet us by his impressive directorial skills. The entire movie works like an elegantly choreographed dance which is aided, in no small part, by an incredibly effective soundscape (sound designer/editor Niv Adiri and his crew better get an Oscar). “Gravity” is an experience. It happens to us. It is not really a narrative film with an A-B-C plot. Because it does in fact work that way, it’s a shame that Curón’s screenplay provides the film’s only distractions. Otherwise, this is pure, visceral cinema at it’s finest. Roger Ebert often called the best movies an “out of body experience”. For me, “Gravity” was exactly that.