I first saw the multi award winning Gravity in November last year during my non writing phase but it’s a film that I felt I needed to see again. Gravity is a game changer as far as visual effects are concerned and it appears to have re-written the rule book for films set in space. So over two months and $675 million at the box office after its initial release, I was able to take in the film’s awesome effects once more in stunning 3D. I’ll be honest, I never expected to use the words ‘stunning’ and ‘3D’ in the same sentence but Gravity is the first film I’ve seen for which 3D was the right choice and actually added something to the movie.
Rather than working on a two dimensional plane as most films do, Gravity has a full 360 degree scope to work within. The camera is able to, and expected to move around the entire scene, not limited by space or ironically gravity. The use of 3D is completely justified and adds immeasurably to the feeling of floating as well as helps to place the film in its environment. The opening scene of an astronaut moving around a shuttle with wanton ease is spectacular and things only get better from there. Thousands if not millions of tiny pieces of satellite erupt in a magnificent burst high above the earth and set off complex chain reactions which are visually stunning as well as incredibly frightening.
If Gravity is let down by anything then it’s the script. Following a basic b-movie disaster/survival plot, the dialogue is clunky at best. There’s also an awful lot of exposition and explanation from the mouths of the actors which can become frustrating at times. You also have to take several large leaps of imagination to allow for some of the plot developments but the central conceit is remarkably strong and simple. Following a planned missile strike on a satellite to bring it out of orbit, the debris collects other satellites, creating a field of debris which impacts with a small team of astronauts working on the Hubble Space Telescope. With communication lost to both Earth and the International Space Station, Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) find themselves dethatched from their crippled Shuttle and floating alone in space. Their only hope is to somehow make it back to a working station and find a way home.
The first time I saw Gravity I found it excruciatingly tense. Even though this is a major release so you’d expect the heroes to survive, you were never sure and the odds were so against them that I was on the edge of my seat throughout. On second viewing these feelings were diminished somewhat but that meant I was able to enjoy the magnificent visuals all the more. I honestly think that this film features the greatest visual effects I’ve ever seen. Framestore have moved the goal posts for special effects and this will be the benchmark from which all future films are judged. Several times I found myself asking silently “How the hell did they do that?” and sadly the answer is fairly straight forward. With immense skill, preparation and hard work as well as some fairly traditional techniques, the crew created rigs and wires which were digitally removed in post production. However the magic was done though, the results are astounding.In addition to being technologically mind blowing, the effects and whole look of the film is incredibly beautiful. Vistas of the Earth spinning below, day turning to night and back to day are spectacular and the blackness of space pops with chilly darkness.
There are an awful lot of visual metaphors in the film which create deeper meaning than a simple lost in space movie. In one vital scene, one of the astronauts makes it safely to an orbiting space station, narrowly escaping death. Once inside they adopt a foetus like pose which creates the sense that they are back within the safety of the womb, out of the dangers posed by the harsh, unforgiving outside. Other symbolism includes a brief shot that appears to feature the entire evolution of mankind. Saying anything else would get close to spoiler territory but the symbolism is there and isn’t even particularly subtle.
Something which I was deeply impressed with, aside from the visuals, was the score. As we know sound cannot travel in the vacuum of space so there are no loud explosions or crashes to be heard. If anything this makes scenes all the more powerful as you witness giant satellites crashing together in perfect silence. The result is eerily beautiful. The only ‘sounds’ per se are those that the astronauts would hear from inside their suits, the dull sound of tools or alarms telling them of depleting oxygen, impeding doom etc. Because the film is so ‘silent’, the score has a very important role and it delivers. At times it takes on the sound of a horror score with loud screeching following by long silences. Unusually for a motion picture score, there is no percussion which leads to the un-earthly sounds and high pitched nature. The score works hand in hand with the visuals perfectly and is one of the, if not the strongest of 2013.
Acting wise, there is a very small cast. Besides the two leads, there’s a disembodied voice from Houston played expertly by Ed Harris. Other voices are heard briefly but this is really a two hander. Clooney is at his most Clooney like, charming and suave, confident and calm. He’s really great. Sandra Bullock is the film’s lead and is very good, changing from confident if uneasy doctor to dangerously frightened amateur and then yo-yoing everywhere in-between. Her face and actions tell of the unimaginable peril she finds herself in and she conveys the hopelessness of her situation wonderfully. She’s been receiving plaudits left, right and centre for her role and while she is excellent, I’m not totally on board with an Oscar win.
Gravity has been nominated for ten Oscars and Eleven BAFTAs and deserves every one of its nominations. It’s among the best films of the year and like Jurassic Park twenty years ago and The Lord of the Rings a decade later, has pushed the technology of film making into a new phase. The film is a masterpiece which is beautifully conceived and directed by the multi talented Alfonso Cuaŕon. It’s ninety minutes of pure cinematic pleasure.
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