“Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission,” says astronaut Matt Kowalski. Mission Control responds, “Please elaborate.” “Well, it reminds me of a story…”
Space is always a sight to behold. From the stars to the distant nebulas to gaseous anomalies to distant suns going nova (or supernova), there are wondrous and beautiful images out there beyond our little planet. However, space is as beautiful as it is dangerous. No oxygen. No sound. Even the tiniest of problems are capable of derailing space missions. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Alfonso Cuaron, the director of 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and 2006’s Children of Men, would eventually make a film set in outer space. His latest masterpiece, Gravity, spent a few years in development hell with issues concerning the budget and the technology needed in bringing the visual effects to life. Casting Oscar winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in the pic no doubt helped get it made, but their contributions help enhance a film that was already destined to be nothing less than breathtaking (especially in 3D).
The visuals on display aren’t just breathtaking; they’re awe-inspiring. Cuaron is known for complicated, uninterrupted long takes, and he takes his creativity to the next level in Gravity. The opening shot alone is worth the price of admission (a beautiful shot of the rotating Earth with the Space Shuttle Explorer slowly getting larger while Clooney goes in and out of frame during his spacewalk; one of several well-executed, visual effects-heavy long takes). The visual effects of the exteriors were so well-done; it was worth delaying the film to make sure they were absolutely ready (they go hand-in-hand with Emmanuel Lubezki’s phenomenal cinematography). I can’t even single out a favorite visual effects sequence (the initial debris hit, the spacewalk to the international space station, the attempted escape from it, etc.); they’re all spectacular. Then there’s the zero gravity sequences, which Cuaron worked on to achieve a greater sense of realism than ever depicted before (I’d even go so far as to say that movie magic truly was at work on this film). I do feel a little biased towards the zero gravity sequences in that they offer one great thing that the exterior shots in space do not: the sight of Sandra Bullock and her amazing physique (yes, her physique in this film deserves a shout-out).
Even more impressive is Bullock’s Oscar-worthy performance. Her character experiences the stress and trauma of trying to survive in space while looking for a way to return to Earth. She’s also a woman in great pain; she has not been able to move past the death of her young daughter. He journey to finding the will and determination to survive is a terrifying ordeal, one that Bullock capably handles. She is simply marvelous here (I doubt that many of the younger actresses considered for the role would’ve matched Bullock’s terrific performance). Clooney is terrific in his small role, but he makes it a fun one (that is, until the space debris hits). He does show what a capable mission commander can do in the face of danger, making the most of his screen time. However, it is Bullock and the visual effects that are the stars of this film. Congratulations to Alfonso Cuaron for this great achievement called Gravity!