With “Gravity”, Alfonso Cuarón, director of the first really good Harry Potter film, has delivered the definitive 21st Century space movie. This is not science fiction, this is scientific fiction and it’s all the more awe-inspiring and deeply terrifying for it.
Taking as few liberties as it can with the laws of physics, “Gravity” delivers a gripping, intense story of survival against desperate odds in the most inhospitable environment imaginable. Comparisons to “2001: A Space Odyssey” are as apt as they are predictable but “Gravity” never suffers from its 45 year predecessor’s sterility or inertia.
In a way, we have become too used to and too comfortable with the idea of space travel in our movies and perhaps in real life. From “Star Trek Into Darkness” to “Oblivion” and even “Ender’s Game”, space travel has been shown to be exciting and glamorous but, in general, fairly routine. Interest in the real life space program has waned and missions to, and the existence of, the International Space Station are met with disinterest. “Gravity” reminds us that while we live in an age of science fiction rapidly becoming science fact, we still have a long way to go before we can remotely claim to have conquered the ‘final frontier’, that venturing beyond the thin shell of our atmosphere is fraught with danger, difficulty and wonder.
The film begins with a routine servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope and we hear via mission control that a Russian attempt to bring down a satellite with a missile has gone horribly wrong, causing a dangerous cloud of debris to endanger everything else in orbit. When the debris cloud reaches them and seriously damages the shuttle, astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) face an increasingly desperate race against time and the environment to get to safety.
Bullock and Clooney are the only two actors to physically appear in the movie, the rest of the roles are small voice only parts but it never feels sparse or underpopulated. Clooney’s calm-under-pressure, laconic country music loving, anecdote telling astronaut is a staunch and likeable character but doesn’t really challenge him as an actor but Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone is on another level entirely. She brings a raw humanity to her performance that anchors the whole film emotionally and prevents it from becoming a space tech fetish movie which is no mean feat given the feast for the eyes Cuarón serves up here.
The film is visually astonishing. I saw it in 3D IMAX and it was incredible, but this is a film which will astound on whatever screen you see it on. The attention to detail and kinetic use of the camera draw you into the drama and keep you tightly focussed on the action, despite the very real and vivid sense of the vast eternity of space that surrounds the story. But Cuarón knows that visuals and special effects alone won’t get the job done and his pacing of the story and the layering on of threats and crises is masterful. I can honestly say this is a white-knuckle, edge-of-your-seat, breath-taking thrill ride because I literally did all those things while watching it.
A gripping, intense survival adventure crafted from good science, spectacular visuals and a masterful understanding of storytelling, “Gravity” is a masterpiece of cinema and a timely reminder of just how amazing space exploration really is. It’s unlikely to make anyone who sees it want to be an astronaut but it will make you respect the people who do a Hell of a lot more.