Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: November 8th
There was a time when films set in the vast unforgiving abyss of outer space didn’t have to deal primarily with lasers, phasers and lightsabers — they were tense, character-driven stories about the human condition in the face of peril unknown to the common man. Cuaron’s Gravity is a film that recalls a fact that many contemporary science fiction films have forgotten — spaceships need to be captained by characters.
The film sees astronauts Bullock and Clooney engaged in a routine experiment outside the space shuttle Explorer, when the debris of an exploded satellite causes havoc, devastation and death. This leaves veteran spacer Clooney and novice Bullock essentially stranded in the final frontier, desperately trying to make their way home via the International Space Station that looms promisingly on the horizon.
In the spirit of lonesome sci-fi epics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or Alien, Gravity is largely a two-person act – with Bullock and Clooney as the vast majority of the film’s cast of characters. Early on, communication with Houston is lost as is what little other onboard assistance the characters have. It is to the immense credit of the two remaining actors that they carry the life blood of the film – the title ‘two-time Academy Award-winner Sandra Bullock’ no longer seems quite as unlikely as it may have once been.
To say that Gravity is a throwback to streamlined science fiction is not an entirely fair assessment of the film’s staggering technical achievement. The credible realisation and exploitation of a wholly zero-G environment, with stunning cinematography that ingeniously stages the disorientation of the surroundings — at times the film is reminiscent of a macabre fairground ride. While CG is undoubtedly used throughout (the actors understandably filmed the majority of their scenes in front of green screens), its employment is essentially seamless — very little or none of the film’s visual architecture seems anything less than legitimate. Even the 3D actually adds to the atmosphere.
As is the wont of many dramatic, life-affirming films released in the run-up to awards season, Gravity does admittedly walk the troublesome tightrope of effective drama versus excessive maudlin sentimentality. It is very much a film with American audiences in mind — replete with crises of faith and a character arc rooted in loss and redemption. However, Cuaron makes the admirable decision to highlight the international atmosphere of space. Many of the capsules, tools and religious paraphernalia bear the markings of Russia and China rather than the US of A. On a surface level, the film may be championing the power of the individual, but beyond that it seems to be congratulating the collaborative efforts that create the space programme. The film strikes gold by earning its sentimentality — excellently drawing the viewer into the characters’ struggle through atmosphere, palpable tension and good old fashioned triumph.