Taking over four years to make, Gravity shows why quality filmmaking is a long and arduous process. Alfonso Cuaron’s last big project was “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” perhaps the best Harry Potter film in the series, and set the tone for the other installments thereafter. Cuaron follows up his efforts in PoA with something even better.
Walking in, I had no expectations for this movie. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock floating around in space? How exciting could that be? Would there even be a plot? The plot is overly simple, rather it’s the suspense that keeps you going. At just 90 minutes, that short of a runtime feels unprecedented in today’s cinema. “Interstellar” comes in just short of three hours, and “The Martian” is over two hours. “2001” is a drawn out borefest, and even something as easily entertaining as “Independence Day” hits the two hour mark. Quite frankly, it’s that a short film gives the impression of a poor film. However, that is simply not the case. Who needs long, drawn out space shots that send audiences to sleep? If the plot requires three hours, then, don’t cut out parts of the story. For something as simplistic as Gravity, the intensity would certainly not go beyond the 90 minute mark.
It’s well known that George Clooney can only play one character, and that’s George Clooney. In “Gravity,” it doesn’t matter. All we care about is how George is going to help Dr. Stone [played by Sandra Bullock] get back to earth. The film opens with an extended take as we see earth and three astronauts working on the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s gorgeous cinematography, and the precision in the choreography must have been unbelievable. The weightlessness is spot on and could not be any more realistic. We hear Clooney telling a story of an event that happened back on earth, but in a matter of minutes, NASA alerts the astronauts of incoming satellite debris. The ISS is torn apart, and Dr. Stone is seen tumbling into space. It’s edge-of-your-seat suspense. Clooney manages to rescue Dr. Stone, and informs her that her oxygen is running low. She must make it to a Chinese satellite if she has any chance of making it back to earth.
More debris storms follow, each as suspenseful as the last. Steven Price’s soundtrack booms along in the background and will have you gripping the arm of your seat as you wonder if Bullock will ever finally catch a break. There is a scene in the ISS where Bullock takes off her astronaut suit and curls up in fetal position as she rotates, weightless. It’s a beautiful shot reminiscent of “2001,” and dare I say has far more impact than anything that snoozefest had.
There is a sequence a bit later on where Dr. Stone manages to get to the Chinese station. It fails to work and has her screaming and kicking at the controls. The realism steps in here: as just like in space, no one can hear you scream. It’s dead silent, and by that point, we feel so much sympathy for her character that we want her to get home as much as she wants to. As the satellite descends into the atmosphere, it breaks up due to the heat and pressure, and we begin to wonder if earth, not space, will be her Waterloo. When Bullock finally lands and steps out, Price’s score swells around her, and creates a beautiful landscape of survival.
There will be those who question the simplicity of the film. “It’s just Bullock flying around in space.” “Clooney’s death is unnecessary.” “How lucky was she to land in the lake?” And while all that may be true, I ask those people, what are movies without a bit of luck? We think about our favorite characters such as Bond and Indiana Jones. Where would they be without a bit of luck? We want our heroes to make it through their journey. How would we feel if Bullock crashed and didn’t survive her journey back? What would be the point of the incredibly tense previous 90 minutes? Our hero’s perseverance should pay off. “Gravity” hits at such a deep level because it is, at its heart, more than just a visual masterpiece with a simple plot. It is a movie about human survival – about battling the greatest force in nature. It stands alone as a sci-fi film set around earth that feels down to earth. It’s a film that will no doubt split audiences as lovers and haters. And that makes it even more exciting.