Ever since science fiction took off like a rocket at the movie box office in 1950, one of the favorite, and most feared, story lines was being lost in space, never to return to Planet Earth again. More often than not, these very low-budget astronauts were shot against cardboard sets, which occasionally moved when bumped into, almost never seemed to be without gravity of some sort keeping them upright and moving around, and only had a smattering of non-descript knobs to twiddle with. Yes, sixty-three years ago was the sci-fi Stone Age when it came to space travel in the movies.
Fast-forward to 2013 and things have changed… a lot. The new film Gravity starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney is charting new territory to attach to the meaning of “spectacular.” To start with, the film is the most intense, gripping ninety minutes I’ve seen on film maybe ever. It grabs the audience and whips them all over space like an amusement park ride. When the film ends, you may find yourself feeling like you just got off a plane after a turbulent landing… like you’re still moving, and perhaps trembling a little.
The visuals and effects are both breathtaking and heart stopping. Director Alfonso Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezky wring out the budget to get everything just right. Cuaron is noted for his art house hit Y Tu Mama Tambien and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Lubezky has given us such visual treats such as Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and Terrence Malick’s The New World. The score by relative newcomer Stephen Price is also stunning and effective.
And let’s not forget the performances. George Clooney is pretty much George Clooney in a space suit, and he does it very well. I found it amusing that his character name was Kowalski, which was also the name of the anti-hero in a speed-driven cult film called Vanishing Point, in which that Kowalski careened all over the United States in a supercharged Dodge Charger. Many writers, myself included, thought Sandra Bullock won her Oscar for The Blind Side because it was probably her only chance to win one. Boy, were we wrong. Her performance in Gravity is downright perfect. She is focused, she is emotional, and she is touching. If she doesn’t snag her second gold statue for this, I’ll be very much surprised.
And a nod to James Cameron, who was important in getting Gravity made. The project was kicked around for years, ostensibly with Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr. attached. But the problem was being able to match the incredibly intricate special effects with a doable budget. As Gravity was getting very close to being sunk, Cameron made Avatar, and with that, the technology was there to make this film a go.
I will tell you this about Gravity: if you are claustrophobic, forget that and go see it; if you have a fear of heights, go see it; if you think you hate 3-D movies, go see it. In other words, don’t find a way to talk yourself out of seeing it. Just go. Oh, and one more thing… you really need to see Gravity in IMAX 3-D. The 3-D is like another character and is not of the obnoxious, in your face kind of 3-D. You’ll be amazed how effective everyday items, even a single teardrop, can pull you into the picture. There are only two theatres in town showing the IMAX 3-D version: Showcase Springdale, and AMC Newport on the Levee. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it may be inconvenient for you to get to one of those locations. But it’s worth it. The other plexes are generally showing it in both 3-D and 2-D. This is one of those instances where bigger really is better.
The PG-13 rated Gravity is, so far, the great film of the year.