Calling a movie Newton’s Laws of Motion would probably have the potential audience running for the hills. Imagine it: Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón undertakes such an ambitious project, a movie set in Earth’s orbit with characters under constant threat of danger, but no one goes to see it because they think it’s a science documentary about physics. So, we get Gravity.
(Aside: Imagine if The Godfather were called Old Fat Italian Guy Who Kills People. I’d watch that fuckin’ movie.)
Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are in space. There are other astronauts, too, but it doesn’t matter because they’ll be dead in approximately nine minutes. This is an adventure movie; it’s a wonder the other characters even have names.
Because of something stupid the Russians do with a satellite, there’s suddenly a ton of debris hurtling toward Stone and her team. If you’ve seen the trailer, you have all this information at your disposal.
New information: Ed Harris plays the voice of mission control in Houston, because apparently Cuarón and his son, Jonás, who co-wrote the script, are big on in-jokes. It’s not that Harris is an unwelcome presence; it’s just that his big movie star voice is distracting.
The good news is there’s little time to be distracted because of the aforementioned debris. The bad news is Bullock is left floating through space.
Re-enter Clooney, who, along with the help of some jets on his suit, finds Bullock—Stone, that is—and rescues her. Unfortunately, there’s catastrophic damage to their space shuttle. There are also dead crewmembers floating nearby, and Stone is running out of oxygen.
Worse yet, the nearest space station is damaged enough by the debris that Stone and Kowalsky can’t seek refuge there, or at least not for very long. There’s a Chinese station nearby. That will have to do.
This review’s been rather flippant regarding the particulars of the story up to this point, and I don’t mean to belittle the labors of the filmmakers or the actors. So let’s be clear: Gravity has so moments of drama that are so intense, you may feel your breath is sucked away from you as quickly as Stone’s oxygen supply.
Gravity is a pretty shrewd customer. It gives Stone and Kowalsky disaster after disaster, and each one is worse than the disaster that came before it (in that sense it’s like James Cameron’s The Abyss, which stars, coincidentally, Ed Harris).
But at some point, it does get to be absurd. Gravity. Hitting something in space. Bouncing back in the other direction. Grabbing onto something. Fire. Escape pods. Space parachutes. Landing gear. More debris.
In the disaster department, that’s probably only the half of it. Fortunately, Gravity runs about 90 minutes, and there will be plenty of time to decompress afterward. Plus, Bullock’s effortless charisma and big-budget acting chops go a long way.
It’s in the technical department that Gravity really excels. Until now, the best-looking space movie has probably been Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even with all the computer-generated images in the world, space has never done quite as well as his models.
Now the bar has been reset. Gravity is seamless, and looks as if it were shot in space, not a studio backlot. The editing, likewise, is seamless. Cuarón took the reins himself with Mark Sanger (who was responsible for the rather showy visual effects in Cuarón’s Children of Men).
Then there’s Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. Lubezki has a habit of shooting big, flashy projects. Sometimes they look great (The Tree of Life), and sometimes they look like big, flashy projects (Children of Men). Gravity, which is, no doubt, a big, flashy project, is truly impressive. If only its story was at the same standard as its technical components.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Regal Santa Fe Stadium 14
Santa Fe Reporter