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GRAVITY – Review
November 7, 2013
Starring Sandra Bullock in a rare leading role, Gravity takes us to the edge of our atmosphere and reminds us why nothing survives up there. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone on her first trip into space where everything goes wrong and she is forced to confront not only the void of space, but her past too. Dr. Stone is a woman dedicated to her work and ignoring her femininity. Bullock toned her body and got a pixie cut hairstyle for the role that forced her to spend hours in a suspended cube (nicknamed ‘Sandy’s Cage’) with director Alfonso Cuarón talking to her through an earpiece.
Cuarón was joined by his son Jonás as co-writer of this short epic, marrying core emotional story with the spectacular backdrop of space. This is one of the few times that I believe 3D technology has been used to its true potential; dizzying camera angles sweep us off our feet and high-speed debris litter the screen throughout. The technological achievement is nothing short of amazing for this one and a half hour journey, though it feels much satisfyingly longer.
Bullock’s co-star George Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski on his last moonwalk before returning home. This is obviously ominous as anyone who has seen a cop movie where the cop is ‘one day away from retirement’ will work out, especially when he admits he has a ‘bad feeling’ about the mission. Clooney does not distract our focus on Bullock who starts off frightened and almost accepting of death rather than survival. The film uses this to focus on Dr. Stones’ traumatic experience with her daughter back on Earth and the feeling of being absolutely alone.
The story kicks off with a normal spacewalk and a Hubble repair, but Houston issues a warning of debris from an exploding satellite that threatens to tear holes through their space station. The astronauts immediately prepare for evacuation, but the Cuaróns’ have prepared this film on the basis of Murphy’s Law – “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” They also focus on the motifs of birth and re-birth, with shots of Bullock reverting to the fetal position and her oxygen tubes run around her like umbilical cords not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey though they shy away from dealing with it in as much depth. When the debris inevitably hits the shuttle, it becomes a race to the next surviving space station before the debris completes its orbit and comes round to destroy what’s left of our heroes.
The film also deals with the drive to survive against the odds, similarly to All is Lost, also screened at the BFI London Film Festival this year; both films are about perseverance in the face of disaster. The mood of loneliness and claustrophobia are shot in single takes that follow our astronauts in the emptiness of space and also inside their helmets, so we feel their claustrophobia. The film is edited beautifully and really allows the audience to get into the experience of being in space; the music also helps the mood, moving from bombastic to atmospheric with ease.
Gravity might not please sci-fi fans looking for more philosophy, symbolism or character development than it already offers, but it is not a film that you just think about: it’s an experience. The first shot is a roughly 15 minutes long one-take in typical Cuarón fashion and it draws you in. The visuals are stunning and will deserve a second viewing just to stare at the background, but the characters are also compelling and drive the narrative forward. If you have ever wanted to know what it’s like to be in space, Gravity is your chance to get as close as you’ll ever be to having that experience.
Gravity is out in cinemas today, November 7th.