Cynics may think of Gravity as any ordinary sci-fi spectacle that’s heavy on visual effects, light on plot and character development. Some might also think that, based on Gravity’s hectic trailer, it’s a mishmash of generic action and Sandra Bullock’s screaming for 2 hours. But what most people don’t realize is that Gravity’s most imperative qualities come in the hands, eyes, and ears of prolific Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. Known for his visually and thematically compelling films, such as Children of Men and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Cuarón uses his gifted writing, directing, and producing to boldly craft Gravity. Based on responses from numerous critics, audiences, and myself, the result is both satisfying and stunning.
Gravity proves to be a fantastic addition to the sci-fi thriller genre with mesmerizing visuals, intimate cinematography, and intriguing storytelling. At moments, its visual grandeur reminisces to other acclaimed space films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. But one major difference between Gravity and other space films is the centralized and meditative performances on the story’s two protagonists: the neurotic rookie astronaut Ryan Stone, Sandra Bullock, and the talkative veteran Matt Kowalski, George Clooney. While reconfiguring the Hubble Space Telescope adrift in space, Stone and Kowalski are hit by debris from a damaged Russian space station, setting them into a series of unfortunate events. Without going into much plot, as to not ruin the rest of the film for interested moviegoers, Gravity’s minimalist approach is much more unique and unconventional than any other space film. It juxtaposes both the engrossing splendor and agonizing terror of space and that nothing but “gravity” is controlling the astronauts.
Despite the surprising 90 minute running time, Gravity’s scenes are lengthy and detailed, as a means to draw and pull the audience into the story (pun intended). Though they could look boring for some, Emmanuel Lubezki’s brilliant cinematography concentrates on using different camera angles to keep each scene both entertaining and alluring. This includes the very first scene of the movie, which is a 17-minute single-take shot. Additionally, instead of containing Bullock and Clooney in zero-gravity rooms during production, Cuáron shot most scenes using CGI and inside a mechanical rig attached to the actors and the camera. Although the use of CGI is common in most action films nowadays, as well as 3D, both come with great use in Gravity’s captivating special effects.
Thematically, Gravity draws upon spiritual and psychological motifs, such as survival, fear, and resilience in the duration and aftermath of catastrophe. Cuarón’s practical and realistic portrayal of Bullock and Clooney’s characters embody clarity of mind and knowing what to do in the face of danger and isolation from everything and everyone else. Though these protagonists are the only two characters for most of the film, it cultivates a much more insightful perspective on people involved in perilous situations, whether it’s in space or down on Earth. Bullock particularly evokes a fearful but ultimately durable character similar to Sigourney Weaver as the pivotal character in the Alien franchise. Of course, these themes are apparent through the film’s visuals and music score, which help contrast the film’s dichotomy of Earth’s beauty with the dark depths of space, as well as the silence of the space with the sound of the score. Furthermore, Gravity’s modest yet perceptive script, written by Cuarón and his son Jonas, is another strength of the film’s qualities. Though some of the dialogue tends to be slightly melodramatic and cheesy, it helps build the film’s suspense and emotional depth for the most part.
Gravity succeeds on almost every level, not just as an aesthetically powerful sci-fi film, but as an emotionally compelling survival story, as it grasps universal ideas on persistence in the midst of peril. It could just be another visually spectacular film that most moviegoers would regard as formulaic, but with Cuarón’s intuitive style, Gravity should surpass expectations.
Watch the trailer below: