Dr. Ryan Stone is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth…and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left. But the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space.
I first know Alfonso Cuaron the director back in 1997 when I saw his work “Great Expectations” (1998; Gwyneth Paltrow & Ethan Hawke.) It was beautifully done with all of the movie elements speak something, directly or metaphorically. The overall cinematographic theme of green, subdued but it gives nuances to the movie’s theme of love lost and found.
Frankly I was following his work since then, expected him to do similar works and not too happy about his next movie “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” a road trip movie about group of teenagers in their coming-of-age romp. Then I kind of not too eager to find out about “Children of Men,” let alone “Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban.”
“Gravity” was quite in heavy pre-promotion, it caught my attention. Cuaron doing a sci-fi? But I still take it lightly, not so eager to catch it in cinema. What can actually 2 actors movie in space setting do that is so special? “Gravity” starred by only Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Clooney can bring in audience, but Bullock? Miss Congeniality is currently playing at my premium movie channel, that kind of turn me off.
But one article citing that it was a great movie about how the 3D concept ‘tells’ a story, intrigued me. After a hot-headed meeting, I head to cool it off catching “Gravity” in nearest IMAX theatre. If the special effects should tell stories in a movie and it was helmed by Alfonso Cuaron, then I gotta see it.
[Might contains spoilers.]
The movie opens with a title “At 372 miles above the earth there is nothing to carry around. No air pressure. No oxygen. Life in space is impossible. Visual earth and movie title with roaring score, then all of the sudden silence, like everything was sucked in the vacuum when it starts a sequence of beautifully done 3D effect one-take-shot of Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) a scientist working on a satellite orbiting above earth, accompanied by Matt Kowalski (Clooney) the pilot of Explorer. The 3D tells the story of directionless space, makes it hard to do proper orientation in space.
Then Houston warns about Soviet’s satellite debris heading their way. When it hits, the mechanical arm that holds Stone was broken and she was flung into space. Given the orientation-free nature of space, the camera moves easily (computer generated effect is more correct) from third-person to first-person POV (like it tells that Stone has very low oxygen reserve reflected on her visor.) It also help tells the story of isolation and how we as human was only a tiny being in the vast universe. The scoring (or the lacks of it) were kept minimal to give that tense silence in space, only for accentuation of important scene.
Luckily Kowalski can catch up with her. It sets the premise of the movie about both astronaut’s survival in space. I won’t tell you a blow-by-blow scene. I suggest you have to catch it yourself.
Clooney as expected plays his persona: a suave seasoned astronaut, flirting with stone every now and then. It was not done as an addition, it is a continuation of interaction between the only 2 characters in the movie, they exchange life stories, how Stone always “driving her car” after her daughter died. Bullock to my surprise gave an astonishing performance. There is so little one can do in an astronaut suit to give a body language acting (and some moments she was out of it, and she looks good in tanga) so she relies only to facial expression. One key visual is when Bullock manage to enter a space station, open her space suit and crouch with air hose like unborn baby with umbilical cord. A theme of life and death.
Like my expectation every element works in unison telling the story, technical or not. The story is deeper than just survival of the astronauts, it was more about life and death, the state of no gravity gives sense of no direction and orientation in space, whereas in one scene Kowalski told Stone to overcome her adversity, put her feet on the ground and move on with her life.
Towards the end of the movie Stone told herself that it is time to stop driving and go home, finally put her feet on earth, saying grace. The movie was beautifully told and immersive, the audience applauded in the end.