'Gravity' Review: Alfonso Cuaron Takes You Into Space With Stunning Visuals
What did you do this past weekend? Brunch with friends, a street fair? I went to outer space, or at least it felt like I did for two hours. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity brings viewers as close to orbit as 99.9% of them they have ever gone before. Gravity is and feels nothing short of revolutionary, both in the actual filmmaking process and in the experience for the audience member.
With major hype and Oscar buzz, both in filmmaking and surrounding star Sandra Bullock's performance, one goes into this movie with high hopes. The theater was packed full long before show time and the excitement in the air was palpable. And with the high ticket prices for 3-D movies ($17.75 in Manhattan), feeling like you got your money's worth is extremely important. I was expecting Gravity to be great – no – make that, exceptional, and I was absolutely not disappointed.
The combination of 3-D and breakthrough technological filming techniques designed by Cuaron and his team allow viewers to experience the zero gravity, weightlessness, breathtaking view of Earth, and absolute sheer terror that main characters Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) feel throughout the story.
Bullock’s performance is a total tour de force and she can almost certainly begin polishing up her Oscar speech for Best Actress already. Stone is a single mother whose young daughter died and a brilliant medical scientist on her very first mission into space. She is there to install a scientific device she developed and she is serious, focused, and experiencing the nerves anyone would be feeling during a first space expedition. Her astronaut pilot, the devilishly charming, drop-dead handsome, chatterbox Kowalski is on the complete other end of the comfort spectrum. He could not be more at ease jet-packeting around the craft while Stone is working. Kowalski spends his time exchanging silly stories to lighten the mood and soaking in the incredible views he will be seeing for the last time. This outing is Kowalski's final mission, after a successful career, and he seems both at peace and nostalgic.
A freak accident sends debris flying into the work area and, spoiler alert if you've been living under an entertainment-world rock, Bullock's character is stranded in the depths of space, often without radio connection and far from her mission commander and ship. I knew this going in to the movie but what I did not realize was how realistic it would be, making it a truly horrifying thriller.
The movie portrays Stone's time lost in space as something out of your worst nightmares. Time is running out: dwindling oxygen supply, minutes before another round of disastrous debris, life-threatening moments before Stone loses hope, Stone/Bullock experiences every possible emotion throughout the movie and the audience experiences it right along with her. I realized as I was watching that I had a permanent grimace on my face and anxious stomach for the 90 minutes because Gravity is truly very scary in its own way. The filming, acting, scenery, and 3-D experience make the movie incredibly realistic, powerful, and overall an astonishing, unique and almost hallucinatory movie experience.
Cuaron and his team actually had to invent the technology to portray the cast floating in zero gravity throughout the film. They developed a groundbreaking system of computer-controlled cameras, intricate wire-work, and LED panels, which all had to be erased digitally in the final film in order to present a believable environment for the actors performances. Bullock delivered much of her performance while strapped to one of several rigs in the middle of a box filled with computer-generated lights to simulate the condition of floating in zero-gravity. Bullock acted alone for the majority of her scenes, looking at no one and seeing nothing. Her emotional, impactful performance is even more amazing due to this fact.
The computer-controlled cameras were mounted on arms that swirled around the actors as they performed. One wrong move and George Clooney's perfect face could have ended up on the floor. "Here comes this seven-ton machine 30 miles an hour toward your head, and you're bolted from the chest down into this other rotating machine," Clooney recalled to Entertainment Weekly. "The camera will come flying into you and stop literally six inches from your nose. And you can't duck because you're bolted in. And there are a bunch of technogeeks up there going 'We got it!' I was like, 'I know. But if you don't, my head comes off!' It was funny. We made lots of jokes about it."
Known to be an on-set prankster, Clooney lightened the mood between heavy takes during his few weeks on the set with Bullock, and he certainly lightens the mood onscreen. Clooney is perfectly cast as the wise-cracking, lovable astronaut that is really the calm in the storm for Stone. And, let's be honest, whose face would you rather see if you were lost in space?
My one negative critique is that the movie has a bit of a campy feel at times. Everything that could possibly go wrong does, causing the audience to actually laugh at some points that were definitely not meant to be funny.
That said, Gravity transports the viewer to another place completely, allowing us to feel as though we were up there with its stars among the cosmos. And it warns us that space travel can be a bumpy ride, with the movie taking us on an extremely harrowing journey and frightening thrill ride. Overall, Gravity is an out of this world movie-going experience.