My schedule is such that though I still try desperately to make time enough to fit a movie in on the weekend, having a chance to mull the thing over and write about it feels like an extraordinary luxury. Hence, I'm coming to you nearly a week after what felt like a lavish occurrence: a dinner with friends, a ticket purchased to experience deep space in IMAX 3D. Now, I sit chained to my desk by work, the books and notebooks piled high, the tabs opened in perpetuity, iPad battery draining under the strain of so many annotated PDFs. This is the Friday night of a beleaguered academic, and it seems fittingly masochistic that my self-assigned "break time" consists of contemplating dinner and, well, more writing. I've taken on far too much this semester, my friends, and relate to the plight of Gravity's drifting astronauts more than I'd like to these days: distant from society, longing to feel grounded, and so on and so forth. That's my lazy lead-in, I fear, to a film that may be anything but. Basically: my writing is late to the party. The ink has been spilled. There's no point burying the lead. I'm here to confirm what you already know: Gravity is extraordinary. It's an astonishing technical feat that reaffirms why we go to the movies in these the wayward days of in-home on-demand viewing habits. Not only that? It validates 3D filmmaking, IMAX, and the raw power of simple storytelling.
There are only two small drawbacks to Gravity, and one of them is simply that screenings of the film aren't immediately followed with an optional 30-minute making-of documentary. I wanted to know --as soon as the credits rolled-- how everything was done, how accurate the science was, what the actors' experience of the production was. Alfonso Cuaron, a director I've followed since a grade school obsession with (of all things) Great Expectations, has long had a way with the camera. The camerawork in Gravity is simply beyond, and there's a clarity to the images that provides the illusion of absolute cinematographic purity in spite of the fact that we know, inherently, that this is an effects film. Cuaron uses 3D technology, too, to provide an even more powerful sense of the pristine emptiness of space via deep focus. Everything feels visible here, and we're given a real sense of distance, of proximity, and of the way our figures are in constant motion on an otherwise placid, still, backdrop. This is a beautiful nightmare, a wonder that convinces you at all times that it's absolutely real, plausible, and documented. So, the film's first drawback is hardly a real one: you want to know more as soon as it's over. Knowledge is power, and stuff.
The second drawback is more relevant to an assessment of the film, but mild enough an offense that it's unlikely to trigger too much audience ire: the script is sort of lackluster. There are a handful of bothersome eye rolls here that just feel a bit trite when matched against the enormity of the situation, but, really, they're not worth griping about. I'd imagine there's maybe like 300-lines of dialogue here, if that. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are astronauts working on repairs during a routine space walk when the Russians demolish an out-of-commission satellite somewhere along their orbital path. Debris is hurtling at them, and upon impact a chain of events is set in motion that makes for one of the most intense, relentless film-going experiences in recent memory. Ryan, a woman who we learn has already suffered tragedies on Earth, is our heroine here, and thanks to a plucky save by space cowboy Matt, the film follows her attempt to survive against the most harrowing of obstacles and odds. So, they don't say too much that isn't semi-instructional or expository, and really, it's just enough to make the audience care about the flesh and blood human beings insulated in the suits. Somehow, it works. Bullock emotes, Clooney provides a necessary familiarity in so foreign a landscape. Don't let anyone tell you they're not doing much here, or that there's nothing to it. Gravity is a series of paradoxes: it's a small movie writ large, a giant event film writ small, an overwhelmingly physical film concerned with big concepts, deeply claustrophobic in the most open of spaces, and a placidly anxious adventure. Go, now. Give it your money.