Astronaut for the faint of heart.

Gravity (2013)

As I’ve discussed before, I hadn’t really been paying attention to Gravity until it released its first amazing, minimalist trailer. Suddenly, it was my mission to see this film and the long wait between U.S. and U.K. release dates, peppered with extremely positive word of mouth, coupled with the fact it was burning up the box office Stateside, was agonising. Despite describing my frothing excitement a mere line ago, I actually saw it over a week ago, but I found myself in the position of not quite knowing what to say about it all, so I did the brilliant thing of umming and ahhring over it and procrastinating until it’s past the point of relevance, because that’s what all the best film critics do. Anyway, (sort of) finally made up my mind now. Hey, at least I’m open about it. You wouldn’t get that sort of honesty from the stuck up “what I say goes” dogmatic tossers in the press.

“It’s going to be one hell of a ride.”

The basic story of Gravity concerns Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) who is sent on her first space exploration mission to test some smart science-y type thing. She’s accompanied by veteran astronaut and anecdote machine Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), but they soon run into trouble as a deadly band of space debris, moving faster than Superman with the squits, slams into the space station and bollockses things up. Now, Stone and Kowalski have to battle the elements in one of the most inhospitable environments imaginable and the whole thing becomes a fight for survival for a chance to return to Terra Firma. Gravity has some fantastic things going for it. There’s a scene from the opening of Connery Bond film You Only Live Twice where an astronaut gets his lifeline cut and just drifts away into the inky nothingness of space that really stuck with me as a kid and the concept is no less terrifying here. Helplessly spinning into the void and being completely exposed to the chaotic space elements is a brilliant idea and certainly something that had my heart racing. It taps into one of those fears you probably never knew you had. It’s like Jaws in space, but don’t bloody quote me on that. Both Bullock and Clooney are stunt cast to save time and do admirably in their parts. It’s easy to forget how good they both are, especially Bullock, who tends to get a rough time when it comes to weighing up her contributions in other flicks. I’m a big fan of director Alfonso Cuarón, who did the brilliant and often overlooked Children of Men back in ’06.

So, what about all this indecision I mentioned in the opening? Well, on the technical side of things, Gravity is brilliant. I’m not just talking about the impressive special effects, although they are worth writing home about. Structurally, it’s a solid film, with the characters and pace just right for the story it wants to tell. The thing is, I just didn’t feel it as I kept getting hung up on a number of elements. Firstly, the dialogue was pretty damn mediocre. I could have done with a more naturalistic take on the whole thing as talking about what they miss back home and the pros and cons of space life has been done to death and certainly done better elsewhere. They didn’t talk like real people, which I found to be quite distracting. Secondly, stop me if you heard this one before- a lady has to battle some ungodly horror in space, mostly alone, has a scene where she strips down to her undercrackers and leads a film thick with themes of motherhood and taking responsibility for one’s own life back on Earth. Now, I’m pretty sure that Cuarón has seen Alien, like 98% of all humanoids with eyes have, so that became an issue for me too. That’s not to say Alien should have the monopoly on such things, but it was handled with a defter touch back in the late ’70s. There are some great moments though and if you do manage to catch a last gasp screening, by sure to watch the short film companion piece when you get home, which ties into the film nicely and is very well done.

I saw the IMAX 3D version of Gravity and I felt it was worth every extra penny. I can’t imagine it working nearly as well on DVD. To me, Gravity belongs to the same camp as Avatar in the way that they both work better as Disneyland/Captain Eo type experiences than they do as actual films. The effects and the zero gravity stuff are jaw-dropping and well worth seeing on the biggest screen possible. The 3D is used to great effect and I didn’t tire of seeing dimensional things floating about inbetween the actor and the camera. It sidesteps one of the biggest problems of the gimmick (i.e. making big things look small) by its space setting where making things like the various space stations and astronauts look smaller doesn’t matter because they’re in the vast, seemingly endless vacuum of space. I would say that the 3D actually enhanced the viewing experience for once, which, if you’re keeping score is about four points to 3D and eleventy billion to Team 2D.

“You’ve got to learn to let go.”

By the time it was all over, I walked out entertained. It’s a thrill ride whilst it’s on, but on reflection it may not hold up to actual in-depth thought and dissection. I’ll reserve final judgement until it comes out on Blu-ray, stripped of its bells and whistles, because fun as it all was, I think the big-screen experience may have been making up for a lot of the film’s shortcomings. It’s been a while since I was this foxed when it came to the final judgement on a film and I haven’t decided if that’s brilliant or annoying yet. Time will tell.

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