Friday, April 18, 2014

Gravity

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron.
2013. Rated PG-13, 91 minutes.
Cast:
Phaldut Sharma
Amy Warren

In space, no one can hear you scream. Oh wait, that's another movie. Regardless, it's true. Ryan Stone (Bullock) finds this out the hard way. She and Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are among the crew on a Space Shuttle mission to perform some routine maintenance on the Hubble Telescope. It's her first time in the great beyond so she's not feeling particularly well while floating alongside the machine she is working on. Other than that, things are going according to plan until our good friends, the Russians, intervene. Sort of. They actually just shoot down one of their own satellites which is no longer functioning. The problem is that the debris is sent hurtling through space, directly at the two most photogenic astronauts of all time. Oh, and their co-workers. Crash, crash, boom, boom, and Stone is separated from the rest of the crew, uncontrollably spinning into the blackness. Kowalski soon recovers her. Even if you haven't seen the movie, you've seen the trailer, or watched the Oscars, or one of the entertainment news shows, or just heard someone bumping their gums about it, so you can guess what happens next. Stone gets separated again and spends the rest of the movie trying to rectify her situation.

Early on, we hear a few different voices communicating with the astronauts, and see Clooney scooting around on his motorized chair. However, it really is a one woman show. It's a spectacular one, at that. Sandra Bullock turns in what I think is easily her best performance. Her Oscar-winning turn in The Blindside is great, if a bit over the top. I've liked her in a number of other movies and been indifferent to her in a bunch more. Here, she's captivating in a way not many movie performers have ever been, completely alone for long stretches of film. Tom Hanks' work in Cast Away immediately leaps to mind. For most of that movie his only companion is Wilson, a soccer ball on which he drew a face. Here, Clooney's smiling mug gives Bullock slightly more companionship. The rest of the way is all her. Even more impressively, she's not even acting in an organic setting most of the time. She's often in model space vessels and an anti-gravity environment. Mostly, she is suspended on a wire against a green screen. The only people around her are the crew, all off-camera, so she has no one to play off. If you don't think that's tough to do, I've got an exercise for you. Try standing up in a public place and acting out a personally and visibly emotional scene all by yourself for a full minute without breaking character or acknowledging anyone who is around. Don't forget you have to be totally convincing. Go 'head, I'll wait. No? Okay, let's move on.


We have to get back to that green screen I mentioned. You've probably seen one and know how it functions, but just in case not, it's just that - a green screen on which the techno wizards will later add visual effects. The magicians that worked on Gravity were rewarded with Oscar gold in just about every technical category there is, and deservedly so. It truly is a special fx marvel. From the smallest details to the eye-popping action sequences, the fx do their job. They work in service of the telling of a great story without becoming story. There is never a moment we don't believe our heroine is floating helplessly in space. This is a huge part of the movie's creation of tension. That tension drives the film. Even before we get to all the angst filled stuff, the visuals work magic on us. In the earlier, more serene moments, we're allowed to gaze upon Stone's infinite workplace. The views are as spectacular as we imagine. Rarely has a setting been more well established.

Like I said, though, the job of all those fx is to help tell a story. Making sure that what dazzles the eye does the same to the mind is director Alfonso Cuaron. Given the massive amounts of technology on display this may sound odd, but he really does take a minimalist approach. Sure, the entire set was constructed on a PC, but that's merely a fact of where our tale takes place. Aside from this, the camera is trained on Bullock and her exploits nearly for the entirety of the runtime. There are only a few exceptions made for Clooney, mostly right at the beginning. Most similarly themed movies would have tacked on another twenty-plus minutes by cutting away often to people working feverishly to save the protagonist. That doesn't happen here and the movie is better for it. It's tight and concise, keeping the viewer on the edge of his/her seat without ever letting us off the hook. There is nothing to focus on besides this woman and her plight. Directing that singular person may have been as difficult as the portrayal of said person by Bullock. Here's another exercise to demonstrate my point. Try having a willing person act out a scenario in a room all alone with you. Have them follow your directions but not actually interact with you. Instead, they must react to things that aren't actually there, and make sure they're looking directly at wherever it is decided these things will be located and/or coming from. Bottom line is Gravity is a masterful job done by Cuaron worthy of his Best Director win at the Oscars. It's even more worthy of our massive exhalation when the closing credits roll.


MY SCORE: 9/10

2 comments:

  1. Good review Dell. Visually stunning in every which way. But man, screw that script. Just saying.

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    1. Lol, it's true there wasn't much of a script. It still worked for me, though.

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