There’s a moment early on in Gravity that caused a palpable sense of dread in the audience – a wide angle vertigo-inducing shot of first time astronaut Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) spinning, detached and out of control, into the endless dark abyss of space.
It sets the tone for 91 minutes of cinema that is high-strung, unrelenting, and armrest-indenting. Gravity is visually stunning and boasts the most effective use of 3D in a film to date, using the technology to add to an already realised world (or should that be universe) rather than relying on it to create it. It is against this magnificently constructed black backdrop that the story of greenhorn Stone and grizzled veteran Kowalski (George Clooney) is told. A routine maintenance mission on the International Space Station is interrupted when a satellite moves off course, creating a chain reaction of destruction that results in a deadly cloud of debris hurtling towards the team. With the space station and much of the equipment damaged by the first pass, it’s a matter of finding a way back to safety before the debris makes its way back around.
Bullock takes the centre stage in Gravity, and handles a particularly tricky role exceptionally well. Separated from the rest of the crew, much of her characters story takes place as close shots inside the cumbersome dome of a helmet. Yet within this she is able to convincingly convey some of the isolation, terror, and awe that Stone feels. The impassive darkness around her eventually becomes a kind of supporting character, indiscriminately providing moments of danger and moments of beauty; and likewise a central role is played by the intense and haunting score by Steven Price that manages to capture the feelings of dread and hope.
Gravity tells a very simple story of adversity, hope, and rebirth. Paradoxically the simplicity of the story is both its great strength and probably the main criticism that is likely to be levelled against the film. Admittedly it seems devoid of the kind of fast-paced cerebral dialogue, layered character development, or complex allegorical levels that we have become accustomed to. Writer and director Alfonso Cuarón’s last big screen film was 2006’s dystopian thriller Children of Men, where we saw a more conventional story structure: a cast of characters with their own competing drives, spurred into action that takes place across a variety of locations. Against this, the use of what is effectively a cast of one, set for the most part in a single (albeit infinite) location to tell a story can make Gravity seem deceptively simple. But the reality is that telling such a gripping story with such a sparse selection of elements is a testament to the skill of those involved. And if the focus of critics is on the story is also a testament to the technological excellence of the film – it means that the massive amounts of CGI and effects involved have been used in a way that allowed the viewer to become engaged with the story, rather than distracted from it.
The end result is that Gravity is an incredible piece of filmmaking that begs to be seen on the big screen in 3D, as it is without a doubt one of the most impressive, immersive, and engaging cinema experiences to date.
Published in Gazette Group titles (Swords Gazette, Malahide Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Castleknock Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 7th Nov 2013.