“Gravity” Movie Review

     The tagline for the 1979 Science Fiction classic “Alien” proclaimed “In space, no one can hear you scream.”  “Alien” was one of the few films of it’s time that treated the idea of being in space as a place where things can and will go wrong, taking the heroic glamor out of the genre created by “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Wars”.  Amping this concept up to an entirely new level, I have a feeling director Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” won’t be used as a recruiting tool for NASA anytime soon, as it depicts the most life like re-creation of realistic space travel and the issues astronauts face that I have ever seen in a motion picture.  The film is part thrill ride, part survival story, and within a setting which is both jaw dropping and surreal, some 400 miles above the Earth.  Whereas many films have explored the dangers of exploring various locations in the world, such as the ocean (“Open Water”), caves (“Sanctum”),  or cold weather (“The Grey”), neither of those situations remotely compare to the challenges Cuaron presents in “Gravity”.

     Boasting the likes of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, “Gravity” is not only a sure fire classic, but should also contend heavily in this year’s awards season.  I’m not sure which “slot” it will take in the Best Picture category, since it is perhaps the most original film concept in years (probably the most original since “Inception”) and will likely stand on it’s own without any sort of comparison. “Gravity” is easily the best film I’ve seen so far this year.  Cuaron blends together all of the crucial elements of an outstanding film beginning with the script he co-wrote with his son, Jonas, and the portrayal of the lead character, Dr. Ryan Stone, by Sandra Bullock.  This combined with an exceptional technical side that puts the viewer right there as if you’re floating along side the crew, “Gravity” is a must see in 3D IMAX to get the maximum effect of what is a very powerful experience for the senses.  For all the visual spectacle; however, it is Bullock’s performance that really seals the deal.

     We are immediately immersed into an operation to repair the Hubble telescope by the crew of the space shuttle Explorer.  It is a marvel to behold from the first frame as Stone (Bullock) is installing circuit boards on the telescope, while Matt Kowalski, the shuttle’s commander (Clooney), flies around in a jet pack while talking Stone, who is clearly disoriented in her first space mission, through each step.  When the voice of Mission Control (Ed Harris) warns the crew of debris from an exploded Russian satellite is coming their way at speeds of 20,000 miles per hour, Kowalski takes charge and orders Stone and the rest of the crew to abort the mission and get back inside the Explorer.  They never have a chance, as the debris arrives and obliterates the shuttle and the telescope, while sending Stone spinning away into space.

     Cuaron effectively conveys the inherent issues astronauts would deal within a crisis like this.  There really is no quick way to do anything, with even the simplest of tasks proving both difficult and cumbersome, and yet decisions have to made in a split second without the benefit of planning.  Even a space station that appears to be close is  actually hundreds of miles away and if you’re lucky enough to make it there without veering off course, you’re actually traveling faster than you think and grabbing on to something to stop yourself may look easier than it proves to be.  This and perhaps your oxygen supply is dwindling, as you begin to breath in more carbon dioxide which puts you at risk of going unconscious.  Above all this, there really is no one coming to your rescue.  Perhaps when people are lost or stranded in the ocean, there are search parties that go out.  In space, that’s not happening.  Stone and Kowalski are forced to use every ounce of their skill and ingenuity just to live for another hour, let alone making it back to Earth.

     The human aspects of the story are what make “Gravity” the kind of film we will likely be talking about for years to come.  Countless times throughout the narrative, Stone is faced with setbacks which seem to regularly require solutions with long odds for success.  The human spirit is certainly something of a force to be reckoned with, but within this story, Stone faces a multitude of constantly serious issues that threaten to derail her already minimal chances of survival.  There is an intensely acted scene in the third act where Stone begins to question her will to live, knowing it would be easier to shut off her oxygen supply and let the carbon dioxide peacefully put her to rest. As a viewer, you begin to actually wonder if that’s not the best solution, considering the grim situation. The events in “Gravity” are so continuously extraordinary that the wellbeing of what’s left of the Explorer crew remains in question all the way to the very last frame.  Unlike “Alien”, there are no monsters to contend with, only perhaps, the most impossible course of obstacles mother nature has ever created. GRADE: A