Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity features the best cinematography and computer animation this movie-lover has seen. While the characters could have used more fleshing out, the visuals and the culminating tension were enough to keep me engaged throughout the movie.
Dr. Stone (Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) are the only survivors after space debris collides with their ship. They struggle against time as their oxygen runs low and the orbiting debris makes its way around the planet for a second collision with a Russian vessel that is their only hope of returning to Earth.
The impact that tears apart the space shuttle catapults Dr. Stone into space, spinning end over end as she looses sight of the shuttle and its crew. While this is happening, the camera orbits around Stone in tightening circles that eventually bring us inside her space suit and show us the spinning universe through her eyes. If you get motion sickness, you might want to skip the movie… or at least watch it in 2D. Otherwise, the thrill is all in the stunning computer animation and Cuarón’s skill in creating tension.
The movie’s 90 minutes are spent almost entirely with Dr. Stone as she struggles to survive with the help of Kowalski. Here is where the character development gets a little weak. This catastrophe is Dr. Stone’s first mission, and Matt Kowalski’s last, which gives opportunity for contrast between the characters, something lacking in the movie.
It’s apparent that these two have no personal relationship before their trip to space and that robs the story of a key element. Dr. Stone’s struggle to survive has less to do with the fear of death than it does with the moral conundrum of choosing to fight despite fear and pain, even though she has already lost the only person on the planet that gives her reason to go on living. Her story would have been much more compelling with a developed personal relationship to Kowalski, who was for the most part, emotionally detached. While his professionalism under pressure serves them both well, there are crucial scenes lacking emotional weight.
Still, the simplicity of the movie actually works very well for it. Few movies have enough patience to linger on a shot for more than a second or two. Gravity features its scenes shot by shot without falling in love with every picture. Bullock is rumored to get an award for best actress in what is probably the best performance of her career – something the studio should be counting it’s lucky stars for, as they considered over a dozen other actresses for the lead role.
It will give the audience a greater appreciation of the movie knowing that everything was done with computer animation. The characters and their suits were the only parts of the movie that were not animated. Visual effects supervisor Tim Webber said, “We decided to shoot (the actors’) faces and create everything else digitally. Which was quite a difficult decision.”
“[Cinematographer Emmanuel] Lubezki suggested folding an LED screen into a box, putting the actor inside, and using the light from the screen to light the actor. That way, instead of moving either Bullock or Clooney in the middle of static lights, the projected image could move while they stayed still and safe. This “light box” became the key to the spacewalk scenes. But it was only a nine-foot cube, just big enough for one actor, not an actor and a camera crew.” – source, IMDb
Given the seamless computer animation and the stellar performance from Sandra Bullock, this movie is definitely worth watching in the theater.
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language