Copyright © 2013 by Warner Bros. Pictures
Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her maiden space mission in the Shuttle Explorer along with her crew are charged with the maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope when they receive distressing news from Mission Control in Houston that a cloud of space debris is heading towards their direction. It is a reaction caused from a Russian missile strike on an unused satellite. They attempt to abort the mission but the debris comes hurtling in killing Stone’s entire team except Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who manages to retrieve Stone after she is separated from the ship. Together, they will need to devise a plan to safely return to Earth.
Here is a description to ‘Gravity’ in a word again; Astounding! The universal praises that have been piling by critics and audiences alike are certainly justified by what yours truly have witnessed personally. Since its release, it has always been the frontrunner for consideration in all major film awards. Come awards season, it has already won several of them for its maestro, Alfonso Cuarón and is a main contender in the upcoming British Academy Film Awards and Academy Awards. I do hope that Cuarón continues to dominate his reign in the ‘Best Director’ category as how pundits would like to put it – it is his year.
He rose to critical acclaim with his interpretation of ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ (which many still considers as the best in the series) and he followed it with indie darling ‘Children of Men’, a political thriller set in the distant future, starring Clive Owen. In his latest offering, he fuses intimate storytelling with big budget spectacle. The end result? A marvel not seen since ‘Avatar’ came charging in all its blue glory. Going in without knowing what to expect exactly, I had thought it will spend most of its screen time exploring ways for Stone to return to Earth safely after her space mission had gone awry (it still does precisely that).
The difference though is how Cuarón takes us on this thrill ride that never slips into tedium. From the film’s opening, the magnificence of Earth as seen from the eyes of our space crew is so realistically integrated, it draws the viewers in immediately, experiencing every emotion firsthand. Not long after the obligatory introduction of our cast and their mission, the film jumps right into the action with its first debris hit (it is devastating but the more spectacular one comes later in the middle of this tale of survival).
Clocking in at 90 minutes, the story zips along swiftly and by the time it is over, you would wish that our protagonist is still trapped in her shuttle. It definitely shows in the final cut that Cuarón’s vision has not been tampered with as funding, writing and editing duties belong to him also besides assuming the director’s position. The premise certainly brings ‘Cast Away’ to mind but like the Oscar nominee, it is the character details and our lone survivor’s motivations to live sprinkled throughout intelligently which provide ‘Gravity’ with plenty of gravitas.
Considering it is Bullock’s best performance since her breakthrough in ‘Speed’, it is an interesting piece of trivia to note that she was only selected due to scheduling conflicts which prevented Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman from accepting the role. I have no doubt any of these fine actresses will step up to the challenge as how Bullock did, but her second Oscar nomination for ‘Best Actress’ in a leading role is well deserved. She completely disappears into the character and it is a side of her rarely seen on screen. She tapped into this vulnerability in ‘The Blind Side’ and ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ but the range showcased here is amplified exponentially. Her funny self is still there but it is challenges like these actors seek to redefine themselves professionally and artistically.
It may be a bit part for Clooney yet Kowalski is extremely significant to Stone’s survival. His vast experience over the years gives credibility to handle such an explosive crisis. Interestingly, it is his cool and suave persona that provides most of the lighter moments in an otherwise very bleak situation. Understandably Robert Downey, Jr. was the original choice, nonetheless Clooney’s charm and banter with Bullock are more than enough to power through his brief appearance.
For the action and sci-fi enthusiasts, ‘Gravity’ is never short in awesome effects as well. The meticulous attention to realistically generate such a massive catastrophe in space has to be seen to be believed. Clearly, hours of research has been put into ensuring its technicality is down to a tee. While that is vital to up its e-value, ultimately, it is the human drama that matters most once you strip it down to the movie’s core. It would not be defying gravitational box office slides if it had been done any other way.
Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language