While watching director Alfonso Cuarón’s film, Gravity, this weekend, I was struck by how powerful the mixed themes of isolation and survival can be. I was reminded not simply of films – Tom Hanks in Castaway came to mind immediately – but in literature, too; from Robinson Crusoe to Blindness. Stories of survival have captivated humankind since the Gilgamesh epic was scratched into clay tablets by an anonymous Sumerian scribe.
I really enjoyed Gravity for several reasons and highly recommend it.
First it’s a science fiction film and scifi is my favourite genre of movies. And it’s a good, well-done, high-quality production, not the usual cheesy B-flicks I consume. This one is visually stunning, especially on Blu-Ray. And the sound is gorgeous too – watch the extras about how the sound was developed. Fascinating.
But it isn’t set in some alternate universe or the future: it’s set in today’s time and world. More a contemporary thriller set in space than scifi. It’s got a lot of real, hard science and believable hardware. Sure, some people have nitpicked at it and found small inconsistencies or errata. Who cares? It’s fiction. Suspension of belief is expected. Imagination is expected. Relax and enjoy the ride.
Second, the effects are breathtakingly good. You need to see the extras to appreciate how much effort went into making this film look like it was shot in space. It feels “real” – inasmuch as any movie can simulate reality. The Earth is jaw-dropping.
Third, it’s about people more than technology. More specifically, about the heroic voyage (a la Joseph’s Campbell’s mythological studies) of one person: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock). She is also the only character onscreen for the majority of the film, much like Hanks in Castaway. That journey – crossing the threshold, loss, fighting demons, redemption – is something we recognize as archetypal within each of us.
That solo role alone makes me appreciative. Bullock pulls off a good character development and handles her dramatic role well even without a supporting cast to prop her up. That deserves respect for her talent. And it never gets maudlin, weepy or histrionic.
Her character has one small flaw: she is described as a “biomedical engineer” but her discussions with Matt Kowalski (George Clooney – the film’s only other character aside from some radio chatter voices) she seems to be a medical doctor instead. Minor point, but I did wonder what any sort of biomedical doctor was in space changing electronic components in the Hubble telescope. But it’s a minor hiccup and doesn’t affect the plot at all.
Neil deGrasse Tyson also found this irksome, by the way, but his other complaints seem a tad over-active. Maybe it’s an astro-physicist thing.
Finally, it’s a dramatic adventure that never lets up after the opening scene. It’s tense, sharp and compelling. There’s a lot of emotion packed into 90 minutes. It’s not all-high-energy action, but the action when it happens is fierce, well-paced and convincing.
Peter Bradshaw, reviewing Gravity in The Guardian summed it up nicely:
Is Gravity very deep or very shallow? Neither. It is a brilliant and inspired movie-cyclorama, requiring neither gravity nor gravitas. This is a glorious imaginary creation that engulfs you utterly, helped by superlative visual effects design from Tim Webber, cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and production design by Andy Nicholson. As you sit in the cinema auditorium, you too will feel the entertainment G-forces puckering and rippling your face.