Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Running time: 91mins
The lowdown: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are lost in space as the audience loses itself in ninety-minutes of cinematic perfection in Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity. Action movie and disaster epic, with a dollop of existential soul-searching against a backdrop of deep space, this raises the bar of big screen spectacle as Star Wars, Jurassic Park and The Matrix did before it. Succumb to its irresistible pull.
The full verdict: Seven long years have passed since Alfonso Cuaron amazed us with Children of Men. Gravity is a first class return, and like its predecessor splices high intelligence scriptwriting with high adrenalin filmmaking.
Birth, death, rebirth, the soul, the cold depths of space and the comparable depths of human resilience, the movie attracts BIG themes.
But, Cuaron (and co-scriptwriter and son Jonas Cuaron) know how to spend $100m of Warner Brothers’ money and serve up the awe audiences expect.
Opening on the Earth’s curvature, a tiny shuttle gradually looms large as Clooney’s unflappable Mike Kowalski joyfully space walks, while Bullock’s rookie astronaut Ryan Stone fends of space-sickness and repairs a deep space telescope.
After ten minutes luxuriating in beautifully realised weightlessness, Gravity literally throws peril at the astronauts. A Russian missile has destroyed one of its satellites, but sent the debris directly into Kowalski and Stone’s trajectory.
As the bullet-speed particles puncture the shuttle the two astronauts are sent spinning with no anchor.
The greatest danger in Gravity comes from taking Cuaron, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and SFX supervisor Tim Webber’s achievement for granted.
The film looks and feels so real you have to remind yourself virtually everything on screen doesn’t actually exist.
The Zero-G spinning and tumbling is so smooth, the shuttle, space stations and other hardware have so much heft and weight that the illusion is absolute; you are in space.
Cuaron compounds this with virtuoso direction that belies the logistical mountains the filmmakers had to hurdle.
Long takes swirl and glide, presenting the audience with a God like view of the action, before passing through Stone’s visor to her terrified face, then turning to become her point-of-view. Special mention here to composer Steve Price, whose ambient score compensates for the lack of natural sound in the vacuum of space.
Stanley Kubrick comparisons are accurate; this is what the great director would have delivered had he had access to today’s filmmaking toys. But, Gravity also invokes Hitchcock in both the obstacles the heroes must overcome and the generation of suspense (the edge is the only part of the seat you’ll use).
Bullock and Clooney (in roles originally intended for Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr) are perfect as the two astronauts forced to hop-scotch across oceans of space to a series of space stations, racing against a ninety minute clock counting down to the next orbital pass of that lethal debris.
Bullock in particular, with astronaut physique and melancholic intensity, is captivating, whether tackling onboard fires, scaling the exteriors of space stations, or spinning in foetal position in a sublime moment of respite.
Proof again that 48-frames-per-second flashiness is not necessary to conjure convincing wonderlands; this is bold, astonishing and thrilling in equal measure.
Just see it on the biggest screen you can find.