Sunday, October 20, 2013

Survival In Space Is A Matter Of Fighting For Life Against Gravity!

The Good: Good acting, Visually spectacular
The Bad: Light on character development. Incredibly simple plot.
The Basics: Gravity deserves its accolades for the level of moviemaking it represents, though the story it tells is ridiculously simple.

Since before it was released, there was a great deal of anticipation for the film Gravity, the latest cinematic outing from Alfonso Cuaron. Hailed as a visual marvel and making quite the impression at the box office, I was late to the party for the film. Still, having now watched it, I found it to be worth the hype, even if it was not the most exciting movie of all time. To be sure, this is a starkly realistic survival film in space and it defies the traditional Hollywood science fiction epic while still delivering a sense of visual majesty viewers hope for – especially when shelling out big bucks for an Imax or 3-D ticket, but it is not a thematically complex movie and there are no real morals to the film. Instead, this is a simple survival film told with pretty amazing cinematography.

The starkness of tone for Gravity is reminiscent of Love (reviewed here!), but Gravity lacks the twist or spark Love had. There are no alien influences, no other realities, no mysteries we need to come to understand. Gravity is painfully simple and while it is an engaging ride, it is hard to recommend it as a film that will endure or is likely to hold up well over multiple viewings. In fact, like The Artist (reviewed here!), Gravity strikes me as a film where the novelty will wear off and in the absence of hype, viewers will start to wonder what they saw in the film. That said, Gravity is lightyears more engaging than The Artist!

After a week in space, the seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalski and green mission specialist Ryan Stone are out doing a space walk, working on attaching a prototype device Stone designed to the Hubble telescope. While they are installing the hardware, a Russian missile strike on their own satellite leads to a chain reaction that knocks out communications with Houston. The debris strikes the telescope and the shuttle and launches Stone out into space. Recovered by Kowalski, Stone is tethered to the astronaut and the two recover their dead compatriot.

With oxygen rapidly depleting and the explorer shuttle open and exposed (the rest of the crew dead), Kowalski and Stone decide to make the treacherous float across the upper atmosphere to the International Space Station. Despite having dwindling oxygen reserves, Kowalski tries to keep Stone focused by talking with her. Reaching the ISS, Stone gets caught on a rope and, in rescuing her, Kowalski makes the choice to jettison himself and save her, helping guide her onto the station while he drifts off. After getting the oxygen she needs, Stone must make the journey with the Soyuz to the Chinese space station to return to Earth in their capsule.

Gravity is enjoyable, but not enduring. The truth is, while it is exciting to watch, it is very hard to get emotionally invested in the characters of Stone and Kowalski (Kowalski, especially, considering how briefly he is in the film and how his abrupt return to the movie is predictably a Mcguffin). In other words, whether or not Stone lives or dies matters less to the viewer. Unlike most of the characters in, for example, The Walking Dead, the fate of Stone has no resonance; the film is about the physical journey as opposed to character growth.

That said, Sandra Bullock is good as Stone. She plays Stone as realistically frazzled, just as George Clooney nails Kowalski as a plausible and authoritative astronaut. Both actors deliver their lines with a realistic sense of urgency and authority for who they are supposed to be.

The triumph of Gravity is very much the direction and cinematography of Alfonso Cuaron. Cuaron has an attention to detail that is impressive and the film looks and feels like it is actually in outer space and at no moment does the movie feel artificial or forced for the vastness of space that surrounds Stone for many of the film’s big sequences. Cuaron is virtually guaranteed a Best Director nomination and even if Gravity is not (at all) the best picture of 2013, he might well deserve the nod for Best Director for all he accomplishes, visually, in this film.

For other experimental science fiction films, please check out my reviews of:
Blade Runner
The Fountain


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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