Gravity is basically a 90 minute thrill-ride. The audience lives vicariously through astronaut Sandra Bullock’s point of view as, almost immediately, a space walk goes very very wrong. The Space Shuttle Explorer, which is minding its own business in orbit with a full crew, is alarmed to find out that a big, fresh cloud of space debris is hurtling directly towards them (“Ooops…” say the Russians). Since hurtling things don’t slow down in space (a recurring theme throughout the film), the encounter proves catastrophic. Next thing you know, the only survivors (left vulnerable floating in their spacesuits), are Sandra and George Clooney. Their best bet is to try to make it to the International Space Station… you know, that tiny dot wayyyyy over there.
The plot is minimal in Gravity, and the action begins almost immediately. The visuals of the film are absolutely stupendous. It’s like seeing one of those Space Shuttle IMAX movies, but it happens to star two of Hollywood’s most appealing and familiar actors (basically playing the Hollywood versions of themselves). It really doesn’t matter what their characters’ names or backgrounds are, because you find yourself on the edge of your seat desperately wishing for George to be grab the hand of That Nice Sandy Bullock before she goes hurtling off, untethered into infinite space.
Gravity is definitely about the thrill of the experience, and in that sense, it delivers. There is an extended sequence as Bullock’s oxygen is dangerously low, then dangerously gone as she finds herself panting on the fumes of CO2. I swear, as she was gasping for air, I started to feel light-headed. Every time debris flies by, or a character misses that desperate grab towards a handle, a strap, a HAND… you almost feel the physical panic.
What I didn’t feel, however, was emotion. I’ve seen short sci-fi films about forlorn robots that have made me cry. Gravity just made me feel like I had survived a roller coaster ride. I couldn’t help but think if the film had managed to squeeze in more of an emotional investment into the characters that it would have been a complete knockout. But as it is, it’s still a heck of a fun ride.
Apparently director Alfonso Cuarón honestly thought he was making a “little” movie… after all, there were only two characters. It ended up being a four-year labor of love as Gravity ended up being (surprise!) complicated. Props to the excellent Blu-ray release… the filmmakers play to what the audience wants to know: How the heck did they do that? The almost three hours of special features go into everything from the script (every gasp, crash, and teardrop was absolutely scripted) to the special effects, explaining how they recreated zero G (floating without gravity), to showing how the actors pretty much did their whole roles acting in a lightbox. I loved tidbits like how the look of the film was intentionally made up of long takes (no quick cuts), based on the long shots of actual space footage, like the moon landing, that often only had a single camera. Also, 10 months was spent creating detailed animations using software called Previs, which was then used as a shot-by-shot template for the filming. Whatever they had to did, the result is inarguably breathtaking.