Y’know what, if there’s one good thing to come from the sheer barrage of remakes, adaptations and sequels coming from Hollywood these days, it’s that a film promising something a little new sticks out like a sore thumb. When a title appears from the great film-making beyond that has a very solid, big name cast, and an incredibly interesting concept that has been created on it’s own merit, with no source material – it peaks interest; and peak interest, Gravity has.
You’ve heard of this movie already. You have, the promotion has been constant, and the reviews a little more than flattering since it’s opening across the US. Chances are, you already know exactly what I knew going into this film- Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are stranded in space after some unfortunate circumstances and that’s it, the film is their battle for survival. It’s the kind of concept that is incredibly jarring if you think about it for too long; I mean, imagine being lost in an endless, completely apathetic abyss, dying while you watch your home planet just exist unchanged without you. It’s grim and seems like a good foundation for a career in nihilism and self-abuse. It’s also the kind of story that you wonder why it hadn’t really been done before. Kubrick certainly tackles elements of it with his opus 2001: A Space Oddysey, and more recent sci-fi jaunts Sunshine and Moon definitely hit closer to base, but this is the first film, to my knowledge, that tackles the idea head on.
So, does Alfonso Cuaron’s (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men) attempt at true sci-fi do the concept justice? Yes….and no. Gravity is two films, near seamlessly stuck together. On one hand, we have Bullock’s journey of self-actualization and revelation as she attempts to survive space using nothing but her wits and some satellites, and on the other we have a beautiful, stunning piece of cinema, merging ambient post-rock and incredible visuals of the Earth and it’s surrounding stars using the best graphical technology we have at our disposal. These flow nicely, but do butt heads at times. Let’s talk about the former first.
The plot of the film is lacking, for want of a better word. Set in 2014/15, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock play astronauts (duh), Clooney a veteran and Bullock a near total newbie. The characters are charming, but simple and clichéd. The mission, of course, goes wrong, and Bullock and Clooney must fight to survive. The star of the film is Sandra Bullock, George provides some nice dialogue and characterization, but the films is all from Bullock’s perspective.
We have the character sob-story so we root for their survival and eventual realization of their problems and figurative re-birth as a direct result of the events on-screen. The sci-fi is very soft, it’s not a realistic film, which of course is the way to make the screenplay even easier to develop. This isn’t to say bullock and Clooney don’t turn in good performances, very much the opposite. They are on fine form, and are very compelling on screen, you don’t get bored of only one or two characters ever talking or doing anything, and that is definitely more testament to their command of the lense than the writing in this case.
Now, onto the REAL entertaining part of this film. Dear sweet Zeus, does this film have some incredible visuals and sounds. The shots of Earth in the background are awe-inspiring to say the least, and coupled with the soundtrack, provide some very emotional, tense, introspective moments that capture why you like films in the first, and how powerful the medium can be. Steven Price (composer) and Emmanuel Lubezki (cinematography) have turned in the real masterpiece of this film, and, really, at times I was barely paying attention to what was going on with the characters and just looking at the Aurora Borealis do it’s thing while some ambience helps transport me a million miles outside of the theatre, and away into space itself.
Everyone who has listened to me at 5 am after a bit too much jagermeister knows I love my philosophical yammerings, and boy does this piece of cinema provide some fodder for that. Even outside of the Earth gratification, there’s lot’s of little details in the satellites the characters visit and in the intricacies when stuff blows up and gets torn apart on screen. The screen is often littered with small floating objects and little bits and bobs that show that every little detail has been looked at, and taken advantage of so that we, the viewer, get the most put into our eyeballs before the 90 minutes are up. Gravity is STUNNING, both in sight and sound, almost to the point where the story detracts from it. Almost.
This brings me on to my disappointment with Gravity. When I was leaving the theatre, I was singing the films praises, because I was on a high from the visuals and momentous soundtrack. I forgave the functional story because y’know, it worked and I was entertained, right? Right.
But Gravity could have been so much more. In making it, Alfonso Cuaron and his brother Jonas had three options:
1) A National Geographic/NASA sponsored cinematic adventure through our planet and it’s surroundings, with a killer post-rock soundtrack (preferably Japan’s Mono, but anyone would do) and some narration by Brian Cox, or Neil deGrasse-Tyson or some other hot topic man of science.
2) A hard sci-fi film about the perils of space travel, oxygen deprivation, the mental crescendo that would be seeing our home planet in all it’s glory from outside the sphere, absolute and utter hopelessness followed by acceptance of self.
3) a soft sci-fi, simple story told with incredible visuals. They chose the latter, of course, but I feel like all 3 could have sold really well, and this could have a real celebration of smart cinema with a big budget – showing the likes of Avatar and Pacific Rim that you don’t need to give your audience a very dumb story to sell a set of awesome visuals.
Gravity is worth seeing, it’s worth the cinema price, just, turn your brain off before you go see it.
[easyreview title=”The Arcade Verdict” cat1title=”Story” cat1detail=”Functional, but weak and predictable.” cat1rating=”5″ cat2title=”Cinematography” cat2detail=”Stunning. Highlight of the film and at times a reprieve from the story.” cat2rating=”10″ cat3title=”Music” cat3detail=”Beautiful, moving and captivating. Post-rock done right.” cat3rating=”9″ overall=”true”]