Hey, does your kid dream of becoming an astronaut? Well, don’t show this film to them: they’ll never want to think about going into space ever again!
Gravity is a space drama film starring Sandra Bullock playing an astronaut named Dr. Ryan Stone, a Mission Specialist on her very first spacewalk, and working with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (played by George Clooney) and some other astronaut guy (and since he’s a non-caucasian character, he’s the one who dies first… bummer). Something goes wrong in another part of space which causes a bunch of high-speed debris to fly towards the team and destroying the Space Shuttle in the process. After Ryan is almost thrown off and drifting into space, she and Matt are left alone struggling for survival, with little oxygen and no communication with Mission Control. Things get worse when Ryan is eventually left on her own to try and find a way back home, before she gets hit by the flying debris, or just left alone in space to die.
You know what? I enjoyed this film a lot! I think for what it’s worth it deserves to be called one of the best films this year!
Let’s get into the technicals first, because this is a project mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón wanted to do for a pretty long time. He couldn’t do it at the time, because the technology for this film didn’t exist, which was really frustrating to him. After years of waiting with his longtime cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, they decided that they were just going to invent the technology. I guess you could call this an experimental film for its use of progressive technology. He also worked on the screenplay with his son Jonas, making this a father-and-son project as well.
I went to see this in IMAX 3D, which I heard pretty much every single critic say: “Go see this in IMAX 3D! It’ll be a true experience!” And what do you know? They were right! The IMAX 3D was totally worth it! I highly recommend it too! And it wasn’t distracting at all. Far from it: the 3D helped to enhance the experience! Even the 3D works its way very well into the story, including seeing small objects or water particles floating around. It’s NOT just as a way to have something in front of us. I can’t give away details without spoiling the movie, but all I can say is that it works.
Whether you know it was done with CGI or not, I was able to suspend my disbelief pretty much the entire time. The visuals were fantastic, especially with how the camera moved with the action, the long takes, camera pans, camera angles, its POV shots, sound editing, lighting and overall attention to detail, including the way things floated in space, how the lighting reflected onto things, and the zero-gravity sequences with the actors. Apparently the actors’ faces were digitally inserted when we see them in spacesuits, but it’s hard to tell! We feel like we’re there with the characters, and there were various moments when I felt myself holding my breath under the suspense. At one point, I had my fingertips over my teeth, and in various moments I was like “GET OUT OF THERE!” or “OH NO!” That’s really good! The film is also extremely beautiful to look at, with the sight of Earth and the sun as we float around. The cinematography is just breathtaking! Emmanuel Lubezki, you deserve a standing ovation for ANOTHER beautiful looking film!
So the special effects are amazing, but does that mean that the story is left aside? Absolutely not. This film is NOT just a special effects reel. For a very simple story, about someone trying to survive and get back to safety, it’s handled very well. Even if there are some clichés in this film, like I mentioned the non-white character dying first (that’s just a nitpick, though), and the whole “two days left until retirement” thing with one of the characters, the film didn’t feel like it was just following a formula.
Sandra Bullock does a great job with her character. While the visuals seem to take over the screen, Bullock carries the majority of the film: she really does a great job with her performance, as we’re able to sympathise with her character and emotions, and feel like we’re there with her through her journey.
The character herself goes through an arc, which I have to admit is very interesting and well thought out. This is a woman who has little to strive for in her life on Earth, having very little people to connect to and even losing a daughter. The film keeps us informed at the very beginning that “Life in space is impossible”, not just to remind us of how terrifying the idea of space is, but also as a symbolic force in the story. The symbolism of space is represented almost like “the dead zone” and as a constant reminder of the emptiness she’s living in and has inside. The blackness of space works in contrast to the brightness of the sun and the light it reflects on Earth. In a way, she’s detached herself from everything living: anything and everything that makes sound, unlike the lifelessness and silence space. I found the use of sound a VERY clever motif, and you’re going to find it a lot in this film. This journey helps Ryan understand the value of what she’s taken for granted, and not just find a way to survive, but a WILL to survive. A reason to keep on going. That’s great stuff there. I was extremely impressed with that.
George Clooney is likeable and charming and even gets some good laughs. Like Bullock’s character, we’re able to care about him. I heard Robert Downey Jr. was meant to play the part, and I can totally see that. Matt’s meant to be the confident astronaut with tons of experience who becomes sort of a guide for Ryan, a woman who wasn’t entirely prepared for this kind of situation. He’s also the opposite of her, as he has a true appreciation for everything and lives every moment that he possibly can. He also helps to loosen the tension in the film with some comedic moments, even in the scenes where the characters struggle to survive, but never do they feel inappropriate or said at the wrong moment. This is the kind of actor they were going for, and Clooney was a good casting choice. He does what he has to do in his role and I liked him in this part.
The themes themselves felt like a survival movie, and the first film that popped into my head was Life of Pi, despite the fact that it was set in space. This is the story the filmmakers were going for: the themes of survival, isolation, destruction, mortality, exploring what it means to be afraid and the idea of facing danger. I also liked its symbolism, including its spiritual themes, and its possible religious references. I think a major theme, which is linked to what I said about silence, is communication: it’s something the character soon realises how much she’s taken it for granted when forced in isolation and the silence of space. I liked how it touched on its binary oppositions: life vs. death, light vs. darkness, company vs. loneliness, technology vs. nature as well as, again, silence vs. sound… man, I am reading waaaay too much into this!
And I really liked how, for its setting, it gave a nod to other films set in space. Sandra Bullock’s character is similar to Ripley, right down to the way she’s dressed, Ed Harris as Mission Control in Houston was a nod to his roles in Apollo 13, and even a scene which was similar to a scene in Wall-E. I won’t say what happens, but when I saw it, I whispered to my friend on the side: “It’s like in Wall-E!!!” You’ll see. And I’m pretty sure the casting of George Clooney also had to do with the fact that he starred in Solaris.
Gravity is not just good. It’s really good! I highly recommend this film! Actually, I can’t think of much negative to say about it, other than I wanted more out of it. And maybe, on a personal level, I wasn’t as hyped as I thought I would be (maybe it’s the stomach ache I had that day, or something else), but that’s just a nitpick. The film can only make me nitpick, and even if you can find more than one nitpick, it has no major flaws and it doesn’t affect the overall quality of the film. This film is THAT good! It was a very satisfying watch, and I’m very glad I watched it, ESPECIALLY in IMAX 3D! There are speculations going around that this film could be nominated for an Oscar for Best Feature Film. I don’t see why not: not just on the technicals, but it has a real substance in its story. Overall it has a great production value, incredible special effects and technology, it’s stunning to look at, it has a great narrative, it has likable characters, and it’s an overall suspenseful, thrilling, engaging, terrifying, mind-blowing, spectacular, stellar, and intense cinematic experience (those are all the adjectives I could think of for this). You could say that it would win for something like Best Special Effects and Sound Editing, but based on everything I mentioned, I think it could also be nominated for Best Feature. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!
P.S.: That was my very first time ever going to the BFI IMAX. And WOAH! IT’S HUUUUUUGE!!!