The premise is as simple as you will find in a film that is set to make upwards of half a billion dollars. Two astronauts, lost in space, trying to get home. I was anxious before going in to see Gravity that it was not going to be able to live up to the gargantuan amount of hype and anticipation that had been generated for it in the past few months. I had been aware of it for over a year, I even included it in my top ten films to look out for in 2013 written way back in January. It is a great relief, therefore, to be able to write that Gravity might just be the best cinematic experience I have had in the last five years.
In terms of technological film making, Gravity is exquisite. The film was supposedly intended to be made in 2009 starring Angelina Jolie, but the technology needed simply was not invented and available at that time. I am glad the film makers waited rather than settling for the options they had four years ago, as I am sure I would not be sitting here writing a review about one of the most impressive looking films I have ever seen. The most striking aspect of the picture is its use of 3D, a format for which I have had very little time in the past. The previous films I have been forced to see in 3D such as Toy Story 3 and Alice In Wonderland have always left me with a headache and an annoyance at the gimmicky path the novelty use has forced the films to take. There is absolutely none of that in Gravity. The 3D helps to create that feeling of floating and weightlessness that is integral to immersing the audience and achieving a degree of authenticity I have never felt before. The film’s sound mixing is to be applauded on this front also, I don’t think I have ever encountered such incredible use of silence before. The overwhelming quietness of space is really highlighted, the only sound offered being the heavy breathing and real noises of the atmospheres created within the characters’ spacesuits, a technique that simultaneously showcases the endless agoraphobic void of the universe whilst at the same time evoking a crushing claustrophobia.
In my previous review of Tom Hanks’ latest film Captain Phillips, I expressed my feeling that the tense nature of the picture was lost on me as I already knew the outcome of the real life story. For Gravity, this was a case of exact opposites. My only knowledge of the plot was from the film’s trailer, and I intentionally refrained from reading any articles about the film that might give away parts of the story. Going in as blind as I did resulted in perhaps the most tense and exhausting cinematic experience of my life. I will not attempt to go in to any of the details in fear of ruining the experience for the rest of you, but I will say that the sense of fear and dread achieved in this film is superior to anything I have witnessed on the big screen before.
The film boasts perhaps the smallest cast of any box office blockbuster that I can think of. George Clooney and, in particular, Sandra Bullock, achieve a level of performance that it is easy to overlook amidst the special effects filled chaos that is happening around them. It takes serious skill to carry the weight of a film this imposing on one pair of shoulders, and Bullock never buckles. Inevitable comparisons will be made with Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise, two female leads, at times aesthetically similar, almost single handedly guiding the audience through science-fiction epics. Whilst I personally would try to avoid lumping the two together, let’s face it, it’s not bad company to be keeping.
One aspect of the film that could be seen as a dent in it’s almost perfect armour is the script. There are a couple of scenes that can be accused of heavy handedness in their attempts to pull on our emotional heartstrings by wedging in chunks of character back story, but my thoughts on this are that the filmmakers sacrificed a more organic approach to building character investment in favour of keeping the picture down to a shorter running time, a decision I believe really paid off. At just ninety-one minutes in length and roller coaster like in pace, Gravity at no point outstays it’s welcome and is a refreshing counter argument to the modern thought that any intended cinematic epic must be at least two and a half hours long.
Ultimately, I have rarely been as captivated in a cinema as I was for that ninety-one minutes. Not only did Gravity reaffirm my love of the movies, it reaffirmed my love of going to the movies. I worry that the film’s transition from big to small screen may result in it losing some of its capability to strike such awe in the viewer, so for the first time in my life, I implore you to see it in 3D while you still can.