Gravity is an audacious piece of filmmaking. Similar to Life of Pi (2012), Gravity has a story that makes it seem shocking that the film was funded in the first place. Centered on two struggling astronauts trying to survive after a self-destructed Russian satellite causes a debris storm, Gravity has two people, almost no dialogue, and minimal plot. But it’s worth every penny.
For much of its runtime, not much happens other than watching the characters float precariously around in outer space. If two big-name stars, Sandra Bullock (arguably giving the best performance of her career) and George Clooney, weren’t starring in the film, this would be an even bigger gamble from a studio’s perspective. The power of the film and much of its story is fixated on gorgeous visuals, emphasizing the vastness and wonder of space.
Gravity is an incredible achievement of technical design and special effects, making use of every advancement in filmmaking and technology. These demand a large portion of conversation concerning the film. There are compositions in the film that are so painstakingly precise that it’s easy to imagine certain scenes taking days or weeks to get that perfect camera placement. The effects acknowledge the haunting emptiness and beauty of the environment and show the astronauts as specks against stretches of infinite space.
The visuals are not only deeply immersive and stunning but are pleasingly utilized for more than mere razzle-dazzle effect. Writer-director Alfonso Cuarón and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki clearly use the special effects to create a mood and atmosphere that feels tangible – like the viewer is actually in space. Not since Avatar has a film demanded to be seen in 3D. The 3D isn’t a gimmick here; it is a vital part of the experience that adds depth, dimension, and texture.
Above all else, Gravity is a thoroughly humanistic film. There are moments of transcendent beauty that come not only from the film’s powerful visuals but also from its simple but compelling story. The characters seem doomed to die and lose hope at more than one point in the movie. The film’s best moment is when Bullock’s character, Dr. Ryan Stone, considers the fact that she’s going to die. Words cannot properly articulate how I felt watching her contemplate this moment. I was hypnotically drawn in by a perfect meeting of acting, story, and visuals. The film’s fully fleshed out and well-realized characters played by Bullock and Clooney become much more than vehicles for a visceral story.
But perhaps this is not surprising coming from Cuarón who has always had a knack for fantastic visual flare but never at the expense of the characters or narrative (i.e. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Children of Men; Y Tu Mama Tambien). I doubt that few movies will be introduced this year with as much imagination, invention, and pure cinematic power as Gravity.