Saturday, October 5, 2013

It's A Long Way Down: A Review of "Gravity"

Imagine if you're working hundreds of miles in space, and an accident destroys your space shuttle.
Then you're losing oxygen...and you can't get help from the ground. No radio. No rescue.

Certain tragedy? In nearly all cases, but it's the ultimate challenge for Ryan Stone, an engineer on her first space mission who has to find a way to get home in Gravity. There has been massive buzz for this movie ever since it premiered in Venice and Telluride a couple of months ago. It is well-earned. This is just so different from other sci-fi films in the past 20 years. It creates an realistic possibility that most of us wouldn't want to think about, much less face: what if you are marooned in space, without the spacecraft you had? How could you get back to Earth, and survive trying?

It starts out calmly: Stone (Sandra Bullock) and retiring astronaut Mike Kowalski (George Clooney) are in a spacewalk and doing some repairs outside the Space Shuttle Explorer. One of the other crew members is nearby, while he tries to flirt with Stone. You may not notice because the opening scene will stun you. It's almost as if Bullock and Clooney are really in space. It's that good.
Then they find out a Russian satellite has exploded, and the debris caused a chain reaction destroying many other satellites. While Kowalski says it means "half of North American just lost Facebook", the debris is headed their way. It damages the shuttle, and kills nearly everyone on the crew. Just Stone and Kowalski are left, and they have to somehow find a way to get down. However, they can't contact Mission Control because communications are dead. They are on their own.

Kowalski, a seasoned vet, does his best to calm down Stone, and get her through this impossible situation. However, a crucial decision forces Stone to find a way to get back to solid ground. It involves getting to a nearby space station, and then another, with skill, nerve, and belief. That road is not easy to complete, either.
Director Alfonso Cuaron, and his brother Jonas, came up with a great story of survival. At one point in the story, there is a sudden twist which was a big disappointment...until we learn that it isn't. Also, it's amazing how Cuaron gives us a sense of floating through nearly all of the movie. Floating is safety, keeping one above all the cares of the world. Once the satellite debris hits the fan, then we have a need to hang on to our lives. Seeing Stone and Kowalski trying to avoid floating towards deep space is just unnerving. When the debris flies towards the screen, you will blink, guaranteed. That's how good the special effects are. You also know what it's like inside the space suit, not just outside.

The main reason to see this is Bullock. She plays a role that has never been done before: an astronaut who has to get back to Earth without a shuttle. First she has to rely on Kowalski, and then on herself. At one point, she tries to be Kowalski's lifeline, hoping that she can save him somehow. Seeing her face as she sees the shuttle torn to pieces by the debris will haunt you for some time. However, you'll also be impressed on Stone's process of gathering enough inner strength to somehow escape.

It may be six months before Oscar season, but Gravity should pick up two or three tech awards easy. Bullock may also be edging ahead of Cate Blanchett for Best Actress, but it's still early.
Four 3-D stars, period.

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