Space: the final frontier. And one of the scariest freaking places ever if you’re a free-floating astronaut without a tether and without a shuttle. I’ve been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to go see Gravity since it came out, and I finally got my chance to catch a lovely matinee showing a few days ago—in 3D, no less.
I have to say, I’m not usually a proponent of 3D. In fact, I think most movies filmed in 3D are not done so for any real purpose other than to make even more gobs of money. Prior to Gravity, I had seen two films that I thought were worth the extra money for 3D: Avatar and Oz the Great and Powerful—two films that are amazing visually, but lackluster in other aspects (sorry, Avatar fans, but let’s be real: it’s Pocahontas in space). But now that I’ve seen Gravity, I’m happy to report that it’s also quite worthy of those extra dollars for 3D, and not just for the visuals. Gravity is a thrilling ride with a clean, simple plot and a wonderful performance by Sandra Bullock. Plus, the sights and sounds are so stunning that you will actually feel like you’re in space. A few more bucks for a 3D ride in space? Seems worth it to me.
Synopsis: “A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: It’s a visual masterpiece—an auditory one, too, I’d say. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that so effectively immerses you in a setting. When the lights go dark in the theater, everything on the screen is so gorgeous and crystal clear that you lose yourself a little, almost feeling as if you’re floating right there with newbie medical engineer Ryan Stone (Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). As for the sound, you hear only what the astronauts hear. Aside from the astronauts’ voices, communication from Mission Control, and occasional bits of old country songs (Matt is a country fan), there’s not much variety. Any sounds that come from outside the spacesuit are muted, which is another subtle, clever technique to immerse the audience. Also, some of the filming is directly from Ryan’s point of view, which is really, really cool particularly when she’s spinning. You’re as disoriented as she is. For an hour-and-a-half, you get to float around in her big ol’ space boots, and it’s a beautiful, thrilling, and terrifying experience. Let me emphasize the word “terrifying” because this film proves there are just about a million ways you could die in space, and poor Ryan has to think about nearly every one of them. It’s tense stuff. Like, edge-of-your-seat, gripping-your-armrests, forgetting-to-chew-your-popcorn tense. Gravity has a nasty (but effective) habit of lulling you into a false sense of security, hypnotizing you with serene shots of space before hurling trouble into your face—sometimes literally. It’s wonderful, and so is Bullock, who handles every awful situation with such a realistic sense of dread that you find your pulse racing. Favorite scene: I want to say the ending, but I just said that for my review of Prisoners. Instead, I’ll say this: there’s a moment toward the beginning where Ryan is unscrewing a panel, and one of the bolts floats toward the audience. Matt reaches out and catches it right before your very nose. George Clooney. Reaching toward you. 3D COOLNESS.
The Bad: The plot is very simple, and there’s no fluff. It’s a film with one basic goal: survival. Yes, there are lots of stressful situations and impressive moments of destruction, but when you strip all that away the story is quite basic. It’s Man vs. Space. I don’t necessarily consider that’s a bad thing, but for anyone expecting lots of twists and turns and elaborate backstories, you may be disappointed. There’s also a good chunk of time with almost no character interaction. It’s more about Ryan’s ability to survive as a terrified, inexperienced astronaut as well as her will to survive whenever she struggles to think of anyone or anything important in her life. For any realist movie-goers, I will concede that much of this film is improbable. Ryan scrapes out of several impossibly dangerous situations that I doubt anyone would survive in real life. Plus, I’ve heard that some science folk have been picking apart the scientific flaws in the film. But I’m no scientist, and I certainly don’t go to the movies for realism, so neither of these factors bothered me. I think everything else in the film is wonderful enough to make up for any of its flaws, but you may have to decide for yourself. Least favorite scene: There’s a moment toward the end of the film where Ryan seems to give up. Right after that something impossible and kind of cheesy happens. For a split second, I thought the film was ruined. It wasn’t, but I’m still not sure how I feel about the random interruption.
To Sum It Up: A visual treat with a clean and simple plot, I think Gravity is a breath of fresh air—especially for the sci-fi genre, which can become so easily cluttered with gadgets and superheroes and over-the-top antics. If nothing else I’ve said has convinced you to see this film, let me end with this: Gravity is quite possibly the closest you will ever get to outer space without strapping on a spacesuit. If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will.
My Grade: A