***** (out of 5)
October 4, 2013
Sandra Bullock as RYAN STONE
George Clooney as MATT KOWALSKI
Ed Harris as MISSION CONTROL
Orto Ignatiussen as ANINGAAQ
Phaldut Sharma as SHARIFF
Amy Warren as EXPLORER CAPTAIN
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ll be honest about 2013 as a whole (at least through September): it hasn’t been a great year for movies. Sure, there have been some fun films, like “Pacific Rim” and “Iron Man 3.” There have even been those early-year releases that I’m keeping in mind for award season, like “The Way Way Back.” But overall, 2013 has been a lackluster year for movies, reminding me of the soft summer of 2007 that was loaded with sequels and not much that jazzed me.
The release of “Gravity” doesn’t change the year as a whole, but it’s the first movie I’ve seen that has really knocked my socks off. From the trailer stage, I figured it would be good, and it had some great people behind it. (Not so much George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, though they’re not bad, but more specifically director Alfonso Cuarón, who hasn’t made a movie since “Children of Men” seven years ago.)
“Gravity” stars Bullock and Clooney as astronauts who have to abort their mission and get stranded in space when a debris field from a shattered satellite wipes out the Space Shuttle. Stuck adrift in orbit above Earth with limited oxygen and no means of re-entry, they have to figure out a way to get back home.
It’s a simple enough story, which gives it the potential to be a dullard of a film. However, Cuarón paces the film exceedingly well. We get to the action within minutes, and soon we’re on the crazy ride above the atmosphere, wondering how the characters are going to survive.
Even though there’s quite a bit of character development, the move never slows down or plods along with arbitrary dialogue scenes. Each moment of the film is critical to the overall story, getting the viewer behind the hopes and dreams of the characters.
“Gravity” also wins a lot of points from me for presenting space travel and the related events in a realistic fashion. That’s something that Hollywood rarely does, mainly because things move slowly and silently in space, and that usually doesn’t work well in movies. However, Cuarón manages to use the silence to his advantage, putting the film mostly from the characters’ points of view and showing how slow movement in space can turn harrowing when it happens close up (and deceptively not very slowly at all).
Not since Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” have we seen such a realistic and gripping story about people in the harshest conditions in the universe. Another film comparison that comes to mind is Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which presented ultra-realistic space situations along with a somewhat similar stranded plotline. Comparing the respective release dates of 1995 and 1968 shows how rare it is for Hollywood to release a movie like this.
What also makes “Gravity” special is the visual effects, which look so good, you’d swear they actually shot this in orbit. Had this film been made ten years ago, it still would have been good, but it would have looked cheap at times. Now, with digital technology and visual effects as they are, we get a photorealistic journey that is completely believable to the naked eye.
The 3D presentation is one of the best I’ve seen in a while, and that’s saying something considering it was not shot that way. However, the technology and techniques there have improved to the point of blurring the line between shot-for-3D and post-converted. Regardless of how it was made, the end result is that “Gravity” has such a big screen scope, 3D clarity and gripping story that it’d be a crime to simply wait for Blu-ray to watch it.
“Gravity” may not represent a change in movie quality for 2013, but it definitely sets the bar even higher. It’s the first must-see film of the year, and it’s easily one of the best films of the year.