OMG I think I’ve just seen my film of the year.
It’s been a while since I’ve come out of a cinema feeling like I gone through the motions. Inception was probably the last time. I’m going to say something bold for a second – if Alfonso Cuarón, Sandra Bullock, Steven Price (soundtrack composer) and anyone else who worked on sound design and visual effects do not pick up an Oscar for this film, I would seriously lose all respect for the Academy.
This film is amazing – absolutely amazing. What the film does is capture the beauty of space whilst at the same time show the dangers as well. On an IMAX screen, it immerses you through this spectacle. Once you get pass the nice, lovely message about how cold space can be, we are slowly and gracefully drawn into the story.
“Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission” – Kowalski
Gravity tells the story of medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Stone and Kowalski are on a routine space mission when debris from a satellite (destroyed by the Russians) comes hurtling towards them. The routine mission suddenly turns into chaos as we witness the full power and destruction of the space debris.
What made Gravity so compelling is the outstanding visuals and a haunting and unnerving soundtrack (which sounds like someone sucking out every ounce of air in the cinema) that just ramps up the tension. I’m not joking it will probably leave you breathless as it did with me! The film was so intense that it operates like a psychological thriller. Remember when I said it immerses you in the experience? Well quite cleverly, director Alfonso Cuarón switches from a third person POV to a first person POV. The camera slowly pans from Dr. Stone until you are inside her space suit, seeing what she sees.
My mind just kept repeating four simple words – space is a b*tch!
Dr. Stone becomes detached as a result from the space debris and Kowalski goes after her. In essence the film becomes a human survival story of getting home, battling against the odds that we can take for granted sometimes. For example, the air that we breathe or just walking around on two feet. The film really emphasises how those two elements are screwed up in space. The characters float around in a weightlessness environment where they don’t have control. So trying to reach out and grab something to hold requires perseverance and the hope that you’re not travelling so fast that you miss the opportunity. There is no oxygen in space and the only thing keeping you alive is the astronaut’s spacesuit. If you start running out of oxygen in your suit, you begin to breathe in co2 gases before passing out and dying. It’s harrowing and in some way it gave me a new found respect to astronauts who do that for a living knowing that you are under those conditions. And if you think the film ends there, it doesn’t. That space debris is still orbiting the Earth! Now against the clock and battling weightlessness and limited oxygen supply, Stone and Kowalski have approximately 90 minutes before the debris swings back again. Gravity is like the film that made Sandra Bullock famous – Speed. This was a psychological, thoughtful and tense version of Speed in space.
Again four simple words ran through my head – space is a b*tch!
“You have to learn to let go” – Kowalski
But there are moments where the film goes quiet (which is a relief for my body!) where we get to learn about our characters. The story is basic but it gives you enough to focus on. Stone is the serious one. Troubled by her past of losing her 4-year-old child back on Earth, living in the moment and being in space doesn’t seem to inspire her. Her mission essentially becomes another job and distraction. She uses the quietness of space to bury the emotional grief that still resides in her. Kowalski on the other hand is a guy who does live in the moment. Clooney (with his awesome charm) uses his sense of humour no matter how grave the situation is and becomes a source of encouragement for Dr. Stone. He constantly tells Mission Control his life story about his time on Earth and the people he encountered (even though Mission Control has heard the story so many times). With his child-like wonder, Kowalski reminds the audience that despite the dangers, floating around in space and seeing the awe-inspiring beauty of Earth is a worthwhile trip. He romanticises the experience making us, the audience jealous and him, the luckiest guy in the world.
But really it’s Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone who is the standout. It’s her film. As she goes through the motions of her ordeal, so do we. You get the sense that all the astronaut training in the world doesn’t prepare you for loneliness and certain death if anything happens up there. How do you psychologically prepare for that? How do you persevere when the odds are not in your favour? I thought Bullock gave a very strong, mature and emotional performance. It wasn’t over-dramatic but she gives you just enough to give a sense of how dire the situation can be and yet at the same time, show courage to battle through them. It’s subtle. I can’t really think of a better female performance this year and she should be a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination at least.
“Either way, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.” – Dr. Stone
If there is a fault with Gravity then it’s down to the second half of the film. The film slightly loses momentum where it does go a little “Hollywood” towards the end. There was even one scene where it ripped off Wall-E where Stone floats around space using a fire extinguisher to guide her. But you know what, you do need a balance. You need a sense of hope and that everything was worth it. Sure we could argue that it could have gone for a bolder ending but that wasn’t the aim of the story. Yes it was a little clichéd and yet it didn’t bother me too much because the story was strong enough in the beginning and in the middle.
Director Alfonso Cuarón beautifully balances out the human drama of the film with outstanding visual effects that will keep you gripped. James Cameron said that Gravity is the best sci-fi space film – and you know what, I’m inclined to agree with him. As a sci-fi geek, Gravity naturally ticks all the boxes that I expect from a sci-fi film and reminds me why I fell in love with the genre in the first place. Like any good sci-fi film, the film is not really about the antagonist (e.g. aliens, monsters, or in the case of Gravity – space) but it’s how the human race responds to the threat. Do we show courage and battle? Or do we hide and profit off others and their suffering? It is the exploration of human nature and Gravity showed us the human instinct to fight for survival, something that Oblivion and After Earth failed to grasp.
See this on the big screen if you can. Not only is Gravity is my film of the year but it has already positioned itself in my all time favourite sci-fi films.