You’re bound to read all sorts of hyperbolic love for Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Gravity’. Just so you know, it’s all true.
While fixing the Hubble telescope, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are greeted with orbiting debris. Going into specifics about the debris isn’t necessary. All we know is that, after a gorgeously shot opening in which Cuarón swoops, swirls and twists his camera into magnificent tracking shots rivaling the greatness of his ‘Children of Men‘, holy hell rains down on the space shuttle. The debris silently rips apart the shuttle in seconds. This is one of the most intense and creative action scenes I’ve seen in a long time. (Side note: If ‘Gravity’ isn’t already a guaranteed winner for the visual effects Oscar, then I don’t know what would be.)
From that moment on, Cuarón builds a tension-filled sci-fi story that captures the immensity of space and how, at the same time, it can be utterly claustrophobic. The helplessness you feel as Stone flips end over end, tumbling into the void without any friction to stop her, is unlike any other cinematic experience. It’s not long into the film when you forget that you’re just watching a movie. Instead, you experience all the fear and imminent dread that Dr. Stone feels in this insanely dangerous environment.
But the screenplay isn’t all about action. It gives us time to understand Dr. Stone’s back story, without any need for flashbacks. Cuarón always keeps you in the moment, as if you’re watching the events in real-time.
Amid such intense, unrelenting destruction, Cuarón still provides moments to rest. At these breaks in the action, the entirety of the audience at the screening I attended would let out a collective sigh. That wasn’t because they knew the character was out of trouble, but because they hadn’t breathed until then. My hand turned a strange shade of purple from clutching my wife. Personally, ‘Gravity’ scared the pants off of me. I’ll admit to having a completely illogical yet very real fear of gravity suddenly shutting off, causing everyone in the theater to float up and away. My fear, coupled with Cuarón’s expertly crafted action sequences, provided me with the scariest moviegoing event I’ve had in a very long time.
Cuarón is quite a visionary, and his talent is on full display here. Not only will you not see a more intense movie this year, you most likely won’t see one as beautiful either. This is one of those movies where you’ll sit there already planning to watch the making-of features when the Blu-ray comes out, because you can’t figure out how everything looks so authentic. The film’s greatest achievement, besides its death-defying action, is the fact that nothing looks computer generated. You can’t point to one single aspect of the movie and say, “Yup, that’s green screen.” It looks utterly amazing from start to finish. Cuarón understands that cinema can still be outrageously beautiful. His amazing tracking shots in ‘Gravity’ are a testament to his craft.
Just one more thing: See ‘Gravity’ on the biggest screen possible. This is an experience that you won’t soon forget.