Have any of you ever seen the movie Sunshine? It’s a Danny Boyle film released back in 2007 about a bunch of scientists from various fields who have been tasked with the mission to restart the Sun with a nuclear bomb designed to create a fusion reaction at its core. It is one of my favourite films, and while many criticised the scientific accuracy of the film, I was personally okay with it, as I am not an astrophysicist and the film also presents all of it as entirely theoretical. The characters themselves are not even positive that the bomb is going to work, but they have run out of options. Anyway, the science here is not the point, what is the point is how the film managed to portray the environment in which it is set (that is, space) as the villain of the film. Sunshine made the very fact of being in space terrifying, and that was something I found so refreshing at the time. You see films like Star Trek, Star Wars or TV shows like FireFly and they are all so flippant about space travel as they are set in the future. Everyone travels through space in these stories, it’s just what people do. They hop on their spaceships and travel around without a care in the ‘verse. But in Sunshine, things were very different. The slightest miscalculation, the most minute mistake, would spell doom for every person on board the spacecraft. The environment, or the lack thereof, was a formidable and terrifying opponent. It is a film that is in my top ten, and I have never seen a film since that has captured that same portrayal of the infinite emptiness constantly hanging above our heads. That is, until I saw Gravity…
Now Showing this week is Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her very first space mission to update a satellite orbiting the Earth. Accompanied by a team of astronauts lead by veteran Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), Stone and her team soon find themselves in serious danger when reports come from Houston that the Russian government have destroyed one of their own satellites and the resulting debris is now orbiting the planet at high speeds. Once the debris hits, Stone and Kowalski find themselves stranded above the Earth, with no shuttle to return them home and air running out. Perhaps they can make it to the International Space Station and get a shuttle back to Earth? Well, that would be telling!
As one can probably gather, narrative is not the strong suit of Gravity. And it isn’t supposed to be; the narrative is there to simply give us context and character within the much more important aspect of the film: to feel the experience of being in space. If there is one phrase I would use to describe Gravity, it would be “an experience”. Director Alfonso Cuaron has nailed the empty, claustrophobic yet vast, dangerous feel of space walking; and he did so through amazing attention to detail within the film’s presentation. People often seem to forget that there is no sound in space! So in sci-fi action movies like Star Trek where there are loud explosions, scraping metal and lasers zapping all over the place, they have always struck me as incredibly false. Thrilling yes, but also false. Gravity, on the other hand, stays true to astrophysics by having almost no diegetic sound other than human voices through radios and what vibrations or thumps would be heard by the astronauts within their suits as they interact with the environment. The result is an amazingly serene experience, that can also suddenly turn into an intense rush of fear when the chaos really starts to settle in. I spent majority of the second and third acts of the film just gripping the edges of my seat! The idea of a suit and a pane of glass being the only thing separating a person from nothing has always terrified me, and Gravity tapped into that fear in a way that I have never felt before.
Visually, Gravity is also a thing to behold. The quality of the visual effects are top notch, with the behaviour of objects in zero gravity being authentic, the Earth in the background looking incredibly realistic and the fact that all the astronauts were completely digital aside from their faces! I had absolutely no idea that their bodies weren’t real, and that is a testament as to how amazing they looked. I saw the film in its 2D format, and I believe for the first time EVER I am regretting not seeing it in 3D. I know! I have heard from other sources that the 3D version is spectacular, and I got the impression from watching the film that having that sense of depth in such a bleak environment would have been an improvement to the film (something that 3D has never been known for!). I simply cannot overstate it, Gravity looks ridiculously good!
The actual script to the film is sadly nothing special. I liked the two main protagonists, they each had a good sense of character to them and that character motivated their actions and behaviours; and the dialogue certainly wasn’t terrible. The script wasn’t bad, there just wasn’t anything amazing about it either, it just worked for what it needed to do. The only point in which I felt the script suffered tremendously was towards the end when it got a little cheesy and cliched. I get the feeling the studio may have gotten involved to brighten up the conclusion a little, which is disappointing. I do wish they would stop doing that! But Bullock and Clooney play their parts very well, especially Bullock being the main character. She carries a lot of the film, and she does so wonderfully. I’ve been really starting to respect her as an actor in recent years, and this film has shown me that my respect is well placed.
Bottom line, Gravity is definitely worth your time! It is an experience rarely captured on film, one heck of a ride and also has some thematic depth to it that was ponderous but not forceful. It may not be a perfect ten film; however it is one of the best films I have seen this year, definitely within the top five! Regardless of whether or not you think it is your kind of film, give it a chance. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
See you next time!