[Review] - Gravity, In IMAX 3D

Courtesy of Esperanto Filmoj
"Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is." ~ The Hitchhiker's Guider To The Galaxy

"Space is disease and danger, wrapped in darkness and silence!" ~ Dr. Leonard McCoy

"I hate space." ~ Dr. Ryan Stone

This isn't going to be much of a review, because I find it hard to talk at length about things I can't find fault with. And Gravity is a movie that is hard to find fault with. Some of the science doesn't hold up, but in the moment, when you are in the theatre, that so doesn't matter. Things are close enough as to make no difference, and there is nothing so obviously false that it distracts from the pure, unadulterated, magnificent terror that this film exudes.

A better name for the film might have been Inertia, or A Bad Day In Space, because while gravity is a constant presence, it only becomes a dramatic element in the film moments of the film. The rest of the time, viewers are treated to a harrowing ride as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney pinball through the void, banging against structure and debris at paralysing speeds, struggling to find a grip, knowing that the only thing that waiting for them is darkness.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that practically cheered when they realised Ed Harris was the voice of Mission Control.

Gravity will be remembered for years. Like 2001 before it, this is the new standard by which dramatic space movies are made. It will be emulated, copied, degraded and heralded, as it rightly should be. This is a monumental achievement in film making, one that had reduced me to tears upon leaving the theatre, and later caused me to suffer a short panic attack on the ride home. That is the quality by which you should judge the success of a film: whether it causes your own body to retreat.

In the wake of it's success, let us dispense once and for all with a couple long held presumptions about space films, shall we? First, no film set in space need ever include sound again. That tired and ridiculously presumption has been swiftly dispatched. The old belief was that audiences would expect the sounds they intended to hear, and soundlessness would be alienating. Alfonso Cuarón has deftly proven that the absence of sound creates a far great tension than dubbing in comedic pinging noises. The lack of sound during the quiet moments is haunting, and during the action scenes terrifying. In the initial barrage, when the cloud of shrapnel rips apart the shuttle in utter quiet save the screams of Bullock's Dr. Stone, there is a suddenness, a stark and blinding quality of detail. The senses aren't overwhelmed, and therefore can absorb every detail of the carnage. And it is like this for the entire film. Cuarón used the lack of sound as punctuation, a constant threatening reminder of what stalks Stone at every turn. From here on out, it will be the mark of a lazy director that needs volume in space.

It is surprisingly almost exclusively Sandra Bullock's film, and had the role went to an ingenue or an unknown, this would have been a star making film. Bullock is already a star, and by gods she is impressive here. And carries an earnestness that makes her performance believable. And because she spends so much of the film alone and in peril, if her performance was off by even a little it would have ruined everything. At one point Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr. were set to star, and I don't think I would have bought them in these roles to the extent I did Clooney and Bullock. There are two moments especially, first when she climbs into the scuttled remains of the ISS, sheds her space suit that has been her prison to this point, and curls into the fetal position whilst turning slowly. That was the first time the tears started. The second was at the very end, as she struggles against the gravity she has been free of for the entire film, swimming and crawling to salvation (though I question if the effects of atrophy would have allowed her to survive those final moments). Her evolution over the course of the film, from uneasy, to atheist in a fox hole, to fatalist, to survivor is deftly done.

This brings us to the second cliche that needs to be dispensed: that genre work is somehow "less than" standard or conventional works. This is Big H hard science fiction, where the science sells the fiction, which is a different beast than soft science fiction like Star Trek. But there cannot be any question though, that the human drama that unfolds over this brisk 90 minutes is to the same quality as a period peace or biographical drama. This is a film that deserves recognition in every corridor, and past experience suggests that it won't be, because space is a synonym for pulp. This is an arrogant bit of prejudice that needs to be expunged with greatest haste, and Gravity is just the thing to do it.

The one place where the film falls over, in my mind, is the soundtrack. It, perhaps as a response against the lack of sound in space, overcompensates with the orchestration. More than once I wished the music was tuned down just slightly, to let the scene expose itself, allow the hurried panic of Stone sell the pace, and generally be quieter. But that is such a minor squabble, I'm willing to overlook it. 

The film almost lost me twice, briefly, and both times it involved George Clooney. The first was his sacrifice, which was completely unnecessary, because in that moment, the lines of the parachute has stopped their movement. They dangle in space, horizontal, but under the same stresses as if they were hanging off a cliff side. In fact, if Bullock had managed to give a strong enough tug, Clooney would have started moving back towards her. So, his sacrifice was needless, except to isolate Stone and force her to journey the rest of the film on her own. The second time was when Clooney returned, a moment that completely brought me out of the film, because of how sentimental and "Hollywood" it was. My heart lept when, moments latter, it was revealed to be a oxygen-deprived hallucination, thus keeping the film sitting firmly in the realm of realism. These flickers of fault are more than eclipsed by how much staggering beauty is in this film. A moment where, in desperation, Stone chucks an empty canister to alter her trajectory, had my heart in my throat, it was so nice to see. Yes, I become emotional when I see the fundamental laws of science exacted correctly in film. This is because it is a rarity.

I wonder how effective this film will be on home video, because it is a film in which scale is integral. That, and for the first time, 3D is used in an effective and dependent way. See the film in 3D, and if you can, in IMAX. The depth and size of the cinema screen is part of what makes the experience, and I worry that it might not carry over all of it's gifted gravitas to the small screen. This may well be the first film I buy on blu-ray, in order to retain some measure of the detail. And if anything should be used to try to sell those 3D TV's, this would be the feature.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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