There are a handful of science fiction films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Alien that have such visual beauty and intelligence that they traverse the science fiction genre to become zeitgeist-defining events and major cinematic works of art. Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film Gravity is almost one of those movies. It is undoubtedly a technical triumph but just holding it back from eternal greatness is its unconvincing human drama.
Set almost entirely in outer space, Gravity begins sedately with three astronauts Captain Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Shariff (Paul Sharma) casually bantering as they repair the exterior of Hubble telescope as it hovers above the Earth. The repair mission goes haywire, though, when debris from a damaged Russian satellite crashes into the astronauts sending them hurtling into outer space. With this simple set-up the film becomes a wonderfully tense race against time as Bullock and Clooney desperately try to rescue themselves and one another while battling diminishing oxygen supplies and malfunctioning space craft.
With staggeringly beautiful depictions of outer space, particularly the vistas of Earth as seen from space and special effects that set a new benchmark for sci-fi realism, this is, above all else, a visually stunning film. Cuaron explores nearly every possible angle and perspective of the characters’ predicament as his camera zooms from vast panoramas of star fields to the helmet interior of a desperate gasping astronaut. The fluid movements of characters and space-craft, the clarity and detail of the cinematography and the use of superbly immersive 3D makes audiences feel as if they are out in space with the astronauts clinging to the Hubble telescope.
Less successful is Cuaron’s attempt to connect us emotionally with the characters. Cuaron makes Bullock’s Dr. Stone the dramatic focus of the film and tries to use the vast emptiness of space as a metaphor for her existential angst and loneliness following a personal tragedy on Earth. While Bullock delivers a solid performance punctuated by palpable fear and uncertainty, she like Clooney is so dwarfed by the visuals and so caught up in the ever-worsening calamity that she simply doesn’t have the opportunity to connect with the audience to the extent that Cuaron seems to hope she will. Consequently, Gravity lacks emotional depth. In fact, the film’s emphasis on visuals as opposed to character development occasionally makes it feel like an elaborate IMAX or planetarium documentary.
Gravity also contains a few unintentionally funny moments with some cheesy dialogue, characters lurching comically from one disaster to another and Bullock at one point seeming to lose her marbles. These glitches fortunately don’t impact too heavily on the film’s mood and overall credibility.
Gravity clearly owes a huge debt to Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of its visual style and scope as well as specific scenes; a sequence on board a space station is particularly reminiscent of Alien. Gravity doesn’t quite achieve the poetic grandeur of Alien and 2001, though, which is in part due to the absence of the majestic music that was used so effectively in those films. Still, the score for Gravity which was composed by Steven Price, does exude tension and menace where required and fuels the heart-pounding excitement of the action scenes.
Gravity doesn’t succeed in every department but as a spectacle and a hyper-realistic depiction of outer-space it is remarkable.
Nick’s rating: Four stars.
Director(s): Alfonso Cuarón.
Release date: 3rd Oct 2013.
Running time: 90 mins.
- Film review: JOURNEY TO SPACE – 3D, from ‘Built For Speed’
- Film review: PROMETHEUS, from Built For Speed
- Film review: ENDER’S GAME, from Built For Speed
- Film review: TREE OF LIFE, from Built For Speed
- Film review: JUPITER ASCENDING, from ‘Built For Speed’