Film Review: Gravity (M) (USA, 2013)

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I’ve started writing this review mere minutes after seeing the film. There was even more hyperbole than what the end product suggests. I have left the cinema with an uncontrollable sense of awe. Even hours and days later, I can’t escape what I witnessed. In spite of the emotionally engaging and thrilling sequences that leave you on the edge of you seat for the entire 90 or so minutes, I couldn’t help but sit in stunned silence as to what I was witnessing. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity – helmed by the star power of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock – might just be the most visually stunning film I’ve ever experienced, and some of the best use of 3D cinema has ever seen.

The film sits in the realm of what I like to call “small premise productions”, like Buried, starring Ryan Reynolds, where one – or in this case, two – people are put into a situation they have to get themselves out of. Not much more to it than that. Here, two Astronauts survive an accident in space and are forced to work together to try and survive (easiest. film synopsis. ever.). These sorts of films can go either way, because so much comes down to your connection to the characters. In that respect, the way Cuarón connects his Astronauts to his audience despite throwing them into a virtual real-time scenario is nothing short of a masterful piece of storytelling, screenwriting and directing.

Bullock and Clooney both give sound performances, and are completely convincing. And that’s where the beauty of this film lies. Aside from incredible cinematography that sees Emmanuel Lubezki dance with his lead actors in such a way that is not just beautiful but leaves you wondering exactly how some of those shots were achieved with such conviction. The camera moves in and out from behind the helmet of Bullock, as the earth tumbles and a spacecraft is destroyed. It’s utter technical splendour. It all looks and feels REAL. You are there amongst it. The special effects are beyond incredible – how they achieved it I have NO idea – but Cuarón knows that without convincing his audience, the film would never work. And he has achieved that in a way I haven’t experienced in many years.

The 3D is also used masterfully, with changes of focus highlighted by the depth of field that the 3D work provides. James Cameron got a thank you in the credits, I can only imagine some of his technology was used to provide the best possible outcome for that effect. Indeed, this is one of the very few films where the 3D effect feels a necessary component of the production, rather than a tag on for monetary gain.

There are odes to the great space films that came before it… 2001 is in there for sure, even Apollo 13 and Wall-E are given subtle homages.

The film is slightly let down by an over-done ending, that had many in the preview screening snickering – and honestly this alone keeps it from being a five star film. But it’s not a film with an obvious ending. You know it’s not going to end well from the trailer alone – but will anyone survive? Who? How? You enjoy the flight of these questions from start to finish. And it’s not until the last frame – over-done or otherwise – that you know the journey has come to the end, and those questions are resolved.

To call one film a work of art over another is perhaps a little condescending. Film is, by its very definition, art. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching the latest Troma flick, an Oscar winner or the latest blockbuster. From the script to the screen, an incomprehensible amount of people have added their stroke to the final product… and like any art, sometimes it ends up better than others. But when I call Gravity a work of art, I mean it in every sense of the word. I won’t go far as to call the film groundbreaking, though the film will certainly go down as a classic of modern cinema, showcasing technology at its best.

Oh and a little game for all of you playing at home: see if you can guess the voice from Mission Control during the film.

If you only made it to one cinematic experience this year, THIS is the one.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Gravity is released nationally this Thursday, in 3D on select screens and at IMAX!