Gravitate toward "Gravity"
Filmed in 3D, “Gravity” is to date the best technically made movie of the year. It doesn’t take long to feel as though you’re sharing time with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in space. The look of the film is wonderful and although I have not seen it in two dimensions, I think it would be a disservice to director Alfonso Cuaron and to your own viewing pleasure not to see it in 3D. There may not be a better backdrop to a film than the image of Earth. But the impact of the visuals would wear out if not for the story, which counts as one of the best thrillers of the year.
“Gravity,” written by Mr. Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron, is the story of two astronauts and their race against time. Assigned to fix a satellite, a team of astronauts and scientists go about their work enjoying a position few have the privilege to partake in until Command Center orders them to quickly abort their mission. A Russian missile has destroyed a Russian satellite and created a debris shower traveling fast and destroying everything in its path. Needless to say, the mission doesn’t go well.
The story is a simple one. Two astronauts are caught in space when their shuttle is destroyed by the debris shower. They improvise and make a plan to use a capsule in a Chinese satellite that is orbiting nearby to get themselves back to Earth. It seems easy but “Gravity” treats space realistically and the laws of physics seem a lot more complicated here than they did in high school.
“Gravity,” along with “2001: A Space Odyssey” are the only two movies in mind that show what it is to actually be in space. Both Cuarons use this realism to build suspense while piling up the dangers. They are at an advantage because critical situations in space are not well known to the public. We’ve seen what happens when people are trapped in buildings, ships, facing terrorists, drug cartels or deranged psychopaths but few have seen a movie or read a detailed article about what would happen if things went wrong in space. When the astronauts face depleting batteries, fleeting oxygen, electrical fires and a space “Sunday afternoon drive” the rules do not apply. The writers have the benefit of knowing that as each turn is a surprise, we have no preconceived ideas when the oxygen, engines or lack of gravity act as a conspirator instead of an ally. Space travel has not been in the national conscience much either, so even when objects just interact with each other, it comes as a major surprise. We learn that there is no such thing as “floating” in space.
Mr. Clooney and Ms. Bullock are excellent as the astronauts whose luck has run out. They benefit from a script that treats their characters as smartly as anyone who has earned the privilege of going up into space to do repairs on a space satellite. And their smarts make the action all the more riveting since we’re watching them improvise to avoid each new danger.
One of the laws of physics, the lack of sound, is used to great effect. There is a different level of emotional dread when facing a life threatening event in silence. Usually a movie’s score warns about upcoming threats. In “Gravity” the score is used beautifully as a pulse that fluctuates depending on how dire the situation. Mr. Cuaron enhances suspense by using the effective but little used technique of informing his audience and not his characters. We get to see the storm coming before anyone floating in space does. Knowing that the storm has reached them and they’re completely oblivious is a tension builder. That in turn makes the film fun to sit through.
My advice is to see “Gravity” with 3D glasses on but you shouldn’t forsake it if the opportunity doesn’t lend itself. “Gravity” is a great thriller and will make an hour-and-a-half of your time go by swiftly even if watching on pay-per-view.