Dagger Movie Night: “Gravity” — “Intense is Not a Strong Enough Word for this Film”

It all started with Olmec from “Legends of the Hidden Temple.” Why a talking Mayan stone head was giving away trips to Space Camp didn’t matter. What did matter is that, every once in a while, some kid would put together the silver monkey and win that trip. How I hated those kids. (Not as much as I hated the kids that couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces together. It’s a head, torso, and legs kid! How can you possibly be screwing this up?) We all had dreams of exploring the stars. It was the only adventure left for a kid to dream about–astronauts were our heroes and we all wanted to be them. Then I saw this film. F#&k space. Seriously. Someone else can go up there and nearly die. I’ll stay right here watching Nickelodeon.

“GRAVITY, directed by Oscar (R) nominee Alfonso Cuarón, stars Oscar (R) winners Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in a heart-pounding thriller that pulls you into the infinite and unforgiving realm of deep space. Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney). But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone. (Synopsis by Warner Bros.)”

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Somewhere, deep in our subconscious lizard brain, we are all aware that space is a horribly dangerous place. In case you weren’t sure, the film opens by telling you that explicitly. Yet we have become accustomed to thinking about space travel in safer terms. Our space program has faced a few tragedies, but by and large human spaceflight has been extremely safe and successful. Our mythos of “space” films up until this point has been reflective of that false premise. Science fiction has been built around the idea of the evil coming from space, not being space itself. The lasting legacy of “Gravity” will be the flip of that idea. You don’t need aliens or explosions; you just need to survive the environment.

Intense is not a strong enough word for where this film takes the audience. Cuarón uses the slow zoom and tight framing to draw you into the character–sometimes literally. This is a survival story that only works if the audience cares about the characters. Bullock is outstanding in her role, playing a medical engineer who finds herself adrift in an unforgiving environment. She plays the perfect balance of capable, victim, and human to invest in. Thankfully, she is up to the task as the majority of the film has only her on screen. Clooney plays a typical “Clooney’esque” character – wise cracking, whip smart, and charming to help cut the tension early in the film.

This may be the best use of 3D and IMAX to date, which Cuarón uses as a total immersion into the scenes. Just as Bullock’s performance pulls the audience in, the stunning visuals and textured 3D locks you into the character’s environment. There is never a sense of relief from the ever-present fear of disaster. The performances, camera work, and musical score all work in nearly perfect harmony to have you clinging to the edge of your seat. If there is anything that detracts, it’s the writing, which hits a few wrong notes along the way. Yet everything else is so perfect, those minor flaws are hardly noticeable.

Very few times can a film be called revolutionary. (“Cabin in the Woods” comes to mind as a notable, recent competitor in the horror flick category.) There is something distinctly Kubrick about how tightly this film is assembled. Maybe that was Cuarón’s intent, since “Gravity” may have surpassed “2001: A Space Odyssey” as the best hard-science “space” film. This is simply an amazing piece of art–do not miss it.

“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: See it. Calling it now: film of the year.

FOUR STARS out of four.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Rated PG-13, for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images, and brief strong language.

Runtime: 1 hr. 31 mins.

Trailer

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