By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
Arts & Entertainment Co-Editor
A review of “Gravity” might as well begin and end with merely that one word, because no other expression or string of sentences could encapsulate the raw sensation of awe that one will feel upon exiting the theater.
The latest project helmed by Alfonso Cuaron, the director of 2006’s brilliant “Children of Men,” delivers yet other masterpiece that has undoubtedly set a new bar for films set in outer space.
Towards the end of her first space shuttle mission, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is tasked with servicing the Hubble telescope. Accompanying her is Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), an experienced astronaut taking part in his final mission.
As Kowalski comfortably whizzes past the crew of the Explorer with his thruster pack, Stone nervously completes her work, undoubtedly thankful for the clip fastening her to the orbiting device.
This opening scene is approximately 15 minutes long and features a single, uninterrupted shot. Through this one fluid scene, Cuaron brilliantly establishes the breathtaking setting that envelops the film’s heroes in immeasurable peril.
In no time at all, calamity literally strikes in the form of debris from a destroyed Russian satellite. The space junk effectively behaves as the film’s primary antagonist, never relenting as the pieces shred the Explorer and threaten to return to the same location following a 90-minute orbit.
The initial destruction sends Stone jettisoning into space, leaving viewers to wonder how she could possibly escape from this slow path into nothingness. Cuaron places audiences inside Stone’s helmet, allowing everyone to breathe every panicked breath and helplessly watch the stars spin out of control.
Once Kowalski miraculously saves Stone using his thruster pack, both the novice and the expert must make the lengthy trek towards the International Space Station in order to procure a Russian module for an eventual return to Earth.
He’s running out of fuel. She’s running out of oxygen. Both are critical ingredients for the two lives dangling above the sky in a ruthless abyss.
Whether they live or die, they will at least manage to escape the lonely expanse, a world where nothingness is everything.
The directing and cinematography marvelously help viewers understand—and feel—the absence of life amongst the stars. No space film has been so engrossing since Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” No film in recent memory has been this captivating. Cuaron outdoes everyone, including Kubrick.
While the space cinematography will assuredly play the primary role in most of the conversation directed at “Gravity,” the stellar performances are nothing to be ignored.
Clooney is in full-on Clooney mode throughout the film, effortlessly keeping Stone—and viewers, for that matter—calm during the ensuing chaos with his trademark charm and appeal. Feeling unsafe is next to impossible while Kowalski is present alongside Stone.
If all acting accolades were to go to only one of the two, however, Bullock would undeniably take the crown. She makes audiences feel Stone’s panic and her helplessness as she floats and tumbles around the beautifully-crafted setpieces.
When Kowalski’s presence transfers to mere radio contact partway through the film, “Gravity” essentially becomes a one-woman show, but you would be hard-pressed to realize this.
The stunning space atmosphere and each and every one of Stone’s desperate, persistent breaths embody a certain degree of life and depth necessary for a film with so few human characters.
With “Gravity,” the filmmakers have created more than just a movie. What James Cameron and “Avatar” did for 3D, Alfonso Cuaron did for cinema. Art in the purest sense of the word has been created for the big screen, gracefully sending forth a masterpiece for the world to cherish.
Speaking of which, this is definitely a film that deserves to be experienced in the IMAX format. Those reluctant to shell out this extra money in the past should strongly reconsider their stance when going to see a film built on the theme of being hopelessly lost in the massive chasm of space.
“Gravity” isn’t titled as such due to the lack of gravity in space. Despite being tethered to nothing but an endless void and forced to float from station to station, Stone doesn’t need gravity to ground her. Her will to live pulls her downwards, and nothing—not even the darkened corners of outer space—will keep her from getting back home.