‘Gravity’: Thrilling, riveting film experience

KD Suarez
"Gravity" is a film with a simple plot, but director Alfonso Cuaron makes it a riveting, heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat experience

DON'T LET GO. Sandra Bullock (L) and George Clooney, portraying marooned astronauts Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski, in a scene from "Gravity." Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

I entered the cinema with a lot of expectations for “Gravity,” the Alfonso Cuaron film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Early reviews were nearly all glowing. It’s rated “fresh” in Rotten Tomatoes. Heck, even the trailer is impressive.

90 minutes later, I can say I was not disappointed. I was thoroughly impressed – and out of breath.

“Gravity” tells the story of medical engineer Ryan Stone (Bullock), who is in her first space mission, tinkering with the Hubble Space Telescope. One of her crew mates aboard Space Shuttle Explorer is veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney), on his last mission to space, who is more concerned with beating a spacewalking record. All is well, that is, until a chain reaction of Earth-orbit accidents destroys their ship (among others) and kills the rest of their crew. They must now figure out a way to go back to Earth, while coping with limited oxygen and equipment, and with the fearsome possibility of floating off into the vast, dark, cold, and unforgiving void.

It’s a starkly simple story, written by the son-and-father team of Jonas and Alfonso Cuaron – whose credits include the lusty road film “Y tu Mama tambien,” the apocalyptic “Children of Men,” and that dark Harry Potter – “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

In its core, “Gravity” is a story about survival. There are no aliens or devious fellow astronauts to battle with; Stone and Kowalski battle things like low oxygen, lack of fuel, hurtling space debris, manuals written in foreign languages, and drifting into the unknown, as they try to make it back to Earth alive. What makes “Gravity” a great movie is the fact that it is a visual storytelling masterpiece – a film painting that will delight both film buffs and space nerds.

The plot is so simple and straightforward, so the film relies mostly on the visuals to tell its story – in the spectacular cinematic tradition of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” – and to keep audiences’ eyes glued to the screen (best seen in IMAX 3D, worth every centavo). Take for example, the 12-minute opening scene: in one, very long uninterrupted camera movement, the film brings us from a dark void to a space shuttle orbiting Earth, to a bolt floating off space to an astronaut floating off to space, to a view from inside the helmet of said (terrified) astronaut.

FACE OF FEAR. Sandra Bullock, as Dr Ryan Stone, in a scene from the movie "Gravity." Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Add to this, the set and the visual effects that were meticulously created for the film. The spacecraft and the costumes look like they were made by space agencies themselves; and the view of the constantly-rotating Earth brings you a realistic perspective of our home planet as seen from orbit. The film’s designers and artists have convincingly made it appear that they did film in space.

Cuaron and his team also relied on science to help accurately portray what really happens in space, from the near-silence of space to how objects, from tears to makeshift jetpacks, move in a microgravity environment. There are, however, several errors, such as the Hubble telescope and the International Space Station being just a hundred miles from each other (in reality, they are in vastly different orbits, as experts have noted). The film’s science adviser Kevin Grazier explained, it was an artistic decision to keep the “errors” that way. This is a movie, not a science documentary, so it’s understandable.

Add to the amazing visuals are the outstanding performances of both Bullock and Clooney as the marooned protagonists. Bullock’s acting, in particular, is what many critics have been noting as Oscar-worthy, and it is. She makes you feel her character’s internal and physical struggle as she tries to stay alive. You can feel her frustration, her fear, and at points, relief, dodging one mishap after another. Sometimes the dialogue feels out of place or weird (seriously, is “I hate space” what someone would say when everything’s disintegrating?), but what the dialogue lacks, the two actors more than make up for their portrayal. 

OFF TO SPACE. George Clooney, as astronaut Matt Kowalski, in a scene from the movie "Gravity." Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Mix all these together, and you have a riveting, heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat movie experience. At first, the free-flowing camera movements will make you a bit dizzy, but once you get your bearings, you will feel as if you are also traveling with the two astronauts, seeking safety from one satellite to another. The cameras go back and forth between the grand and the minute, all expertly weaved into a 90-minute-long film. Explosions and collisions occur in dramatic near-silence, punctuated only by the dialogue, the astronauts’ breathing, and the well-timed musical scoring.  All these, as our home planet silently revolves hundreds of kilometers below, while the stars – also accurately portrayed, a testament to meticulous planning – punctuate the cold, dark, and vast loneliness of the cosmos. 

“Don’t let go.” Stone says this in one pivotal scene, as she pleads to a Kowalski dangerously drifting away from safety. This might well be the advice when watching “Gravity”: don’t look away from the screen even for a second and take in all that this visual, visceral treat has to offer. The film is not just something you need to watch, but also something you need to experience. Rappler.com

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