A mishap in orbit sends astronauts involved in a routine space shuttle mission spinning wildly off course, setting in train an utterly compelling, brilliantly mounted, teeth-clenching adventure of survival against increasingly dire odds.
Breathlessly paced with a procession of nerve-racking cliffhanger moment, Gravity is not just one of the best films about humans in space, it’s one of the most tense tales about the power of the survival instinct.
Director Alfonso Cuaron demonstrated his love of long shots in Children of Men (2006) and here he and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki generate jaw-dropping degrees of tension by refusing to cut away or around the action as the astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) try staying alive in an environment designed to be lifeless. In one quiet masterpiece of a moment, the camera drifts into, then out, of a space helmet.
Gravity is a great film, both as sheer action entertainment and as a contemplation about humanity’s place in the Cosmos, with a second viewing of the film revealing a strong, very subtle spiritual subtext underlying all the science and technology.
Technically, the film adheres very closely to the cold realities of space as a soundless, frictionless, unforgiving vacuum. Visually, frightening sequences of screen-filling spectacle as space stations disintegrate are countered by unexpectedly lyrical moments of stillness and beauty. The film is going to be the one to beat come Oscar time for its visuals and cinematography.
More impressive, though, is Gravity’s evocative sound design, something you don’t usually notice during a film. With so many space movies featuring sound in space, here the very absence of sound is used to amplify the impact of what you’re seeing.
Given how poorly 3D has been deployed by scores of films since 2009’s Avatar, Gravity also stands out as that rarest of all things – a film that actually should be seen in 3D, if for no other reason than to witness the golden moment where the entire life of a stranded astronaut is embodied in the floating blob of a teardrop.
10 out of 10