It’s a shame Gravity had already garnered so much critical attention prior to its release. While it’s refreshing to see an original premise given such a mainstream treatment, it’s also a major detraction for exactly the same reasons. The buzz pouring out of its film festival debuts a few weeks ago hit fever pitch almost immediately, punctuated by a constant turnaround of ‘exhilarating,’ ‘terrifying,’ and ‘visual’ in the reviews. The trailers, while ridiculously engaging at just 90 seconds, exacerbated my pre-release fears as they seemed to give it all away. So she must just fly off into the terrifying vacuum of space, right? Go where no man has gone before?
Even with this buzzing predisposition you’ll inevitably be dragging into the theatre, Gravity is genuinely nothing short of the best cinema experience you’re likely to have. So, before reading on, do yourself a favour and disconnect your internet, throw away your phone, find the nearest IMAX, book out all the seats and simply enjoy the film as it should be - alone and uninformed.
Director Alfonso Cuarón and cinematographer/genius Emmanuele Lubezki have grounded their transfixing use of movement in the terrifying physics of outer space. It’s been seven years since their handiwork elevated Children of Men to iconic status and Cuarón has reportedly spent the entire time brushing up on his knowledge of Newton’s laws and liaising with various NASA departments. While he states that, first and foremost, Gravity is a character piece, the real source of the film’s undeniable attraction is in the details. Never once does the plot veer off or skim on the science (or the layman’s understanding of it, at least), because, as the film outlines in its opening titles: space is already horrifying enough. And for a semi-accurate film set in space, a glowing tick of approvalfromsecond-man-on-the-moon Buzz Aldrin is an accolade you can't really look past.
Gravity's spectacular nature is grounded in Cuarón’s keen eye for aesthetics. His signature long takes are utilised heavily this time around and without the hindrances of controlling a real environment, he’s really been able to take these transfixing shots to a new level. He has a knack for timing them perfectly, rhythmically engrossing you in the frenetic carnage of disintegrating spacecraft, then cutting away and allowing you to process all of that splendour. This is coupled with the amazing CGI, which, as you’ve probably already heard, is far and away the most sophisticated to date. The amount of incredible detail in every movement and texture is astounding, so much so that it’s quite a shock to find out that the only thing not completely artificial is Sandra Bullock’s head (give or take). The scope of these set-pieces are so large that even cursory plot elements can escape your attention as you gaze on, mouth agape, bedazzled by its beauty.
Fanboy gushing aside, the film unfortunately does have its weaknesses and they are almost certainly all a result of underscoring the narrative with Sandra Bullock’s character arc. While appropriately complete, it’s one fraught with more than its fair share of existential cliches as Bullock’s character is inevitably forced to deal with her own emotional baggage, as well as the unique horror of being cast adrift in space. Perhaps more jarring is the arbitrary ‘talking to yourself through a disaster’ trope, which is littered throughout the film’s second half. Though essential in terms of complete plot transparency, it does feel incongruous amidst all of those gritty details.
As with all films universally acclaimed before their release, sitting down to watch them is an experience fraught with distracted doubt, anxiety and unease. Even though I tried desperately to block out the cacophonous media buzz in an attempt to actually view the film from a neutral position, (a process I like to call, ‘Fuck You, Entertainment Weekly’), these words still screamed in my ears like a swarm of gossiping hornets. That old familiar feeling of trying to align my own feelings to match the buzz rose again; a ridiculous passive-aggressive game of mental Connect Four. And then came a stream of self-doubt and self-loathing as I berated myself for having ruined what could have been a perfect cinema experience. While this was almost certainly the case for a film like The Dark Knight Rises (which wasn't strong enough to shoulder all of that emotionally unstable expectation anyway), Gravity is so intensely compelling that none of this really matters. It completely holds its own as a stunning and potentially groundbreaking technical milestone.