To make this review of Alfonso Cuarón's space disaster thriller Gravity, I downloaded some studio-approved clips from a PR website. Even though I saw Gravity in IMAX 3D the night before, as I watched the clips on my computer, I found my palms sweating, my heart racing, and my head spinning from vertigo as I watched scenes of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney playing astronauts fighting for survival in outer space after their space shuttle is ripped to shreds. I'm not sure if I've ever had that experience watching clips of a movie I'd already seen -- but then again, Gravity is no ordinary movie. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Gravity may be the best movie set in space since Stanley Kubrick's 1968 science fiction masterpiece 2001. I know that's a strong claim, but if you don't believe me, go see Gravity, preferably in IMAX 3D. But make sure your heart and nerves can take it. In space, no one can hear you scream -- but with a movie as tense and masterful as Gravity, you'll just be hoping no one in the theater will hear or smell you poop your pants. Watch my ReThink Review of Gravity below (transcript following).
My favorite space movie, and one of my favorite movies ever, is Stanley Kubrick's 2001. I'm not a total idiot, but even though quantum leaps have been made in special effects since 2001 came out in 1968, when I watch it, I still find myself wondering throughout the film, "How did they do that?" I don't ask that in more recent films, since the answer is usually obvious -- green screens and computers. That is, I didn't ask that again until I saw Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón's mind-blowing film about two astronauts adrift in space after an accident disables their shuttle. And I'm serious when I tell you that Gravity very well may be the best space movie made since 2001 while marking an enormous leap forward in digital filmmaking.
The premise couldn't be much simpler. Sandra Bullock, in a performance sure to earn her a second Oscar nomination, plays Ryan Stone, a science officer on her first space mission who's tasked with servicing the Hubble telescope. George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski, the wisecracking, experienced everyman in charge of the mission. But when a storm of bullet-paced space debris wrecks their shuttle and cuts their communication with earth, the two of them must find their way to an orbiting space station to have any chance of making it back to earth.
Gravity plays out more or less in real time over its 90 minutes, but it feels longer, partially because Gravity looks so beautiful and is so exquisitely detailed that you'll want to pause to admire every tableau. But more importantly, it's because so much of Gravity literally had my toes clenching with tension as you experience, sometimes from an extremely effective first-person perspective, the horrifying possibility of being suffocated due to lack of oxygen, punched full of holes by zooming space junk or, perhaps most unnervingly, being flung untethered and alone into the vast, silent nothingness of outer space.
There's some character development, like Matt's failed relationships and, more prominently, Ryan's sad backstory that helps explain what drives her work, though unfortunately neither hit as strongly as they could, nor does the film's sporadically touched-on theme of death and rebirth. But those moments serve mostly as a chance for you to catch your breath before some other calamity strikes, forcing Ryan and Matt to make split-second decisions in order to survive.
This is a short review compared to my others, but that's because what I have to say about Gravity is pretty straightforward. Simply put, this is special effects filmmaking that smashes the standards set before it, and while we've all seen some great movies set in space, Gravity is a space movie that looks and feels unlike any you've seen before. And while I know Gravity was made possible through computer animation that would've melted the brains of the geniuses who made 2001, I still found myself wondering over and over again, when I wasn't gripping my armrests, exactly how they were pulling all this off, just as I still feel today watching 2001 more than 40 years since it was released. Gravity, especially with its excellent use of 3D, is a triumph that truly must be seen on the big screen to be believed as it ushers in a brave and exciting new world of filmmaking.