Gravity: Cuaron’s Awesome Spectacle

September 2, 2013–As of today, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity is the year’s most impressive and immersive picture, an instant classic and top Oscar contender.

Cuaron Explains:

Every generation deserves its space movie and so it’s a pleasure to report that Cuaron’s Gravity is as culturally and artistically significant as Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was in 1968 and Ron Howard’s Äpollo 13 was in 1995.

Gravity is a magnificent spectacle for the ages, not just for our time. It’s a magnum opus of sights and sounds, which takes advantage of the latest technological innovations in 3-D and special effects, and applies them to a tale that’s also emotionally engaging.

It’s time to consider Cuaron as one of the greatest filmmakers working in world cinema today. Of the trio of extremely gifted Mexican directors that have invaded Hollywood over the past decade or so (the other two are Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu and Guillermo Del Tores), Cuaron is (for now) the most versatile, hopping smoothly from one genre to another while maintaining his idiosyncratic vision, which is manifest in every aspect of the production.

As a survival tale, Gravity bears some resemblance to Ang Lee’s Life Pi, and also was dependent on special effects, but Cuaron’s picture is (in my view) better, more immersive on any level. Gravity is not a film of ideas, or a cerebral work a la 2001, but it’s supreme sensorial experience, at once beautiful in imagery and frightening in tone.

Collaborating again with ace cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (who had also shot Cuaron’s vastly underestimated Children of Men), Cuaron invites the audience to join him—actually participate actively—in his taut fantasy-thriller, while not neglecting the emotional dimension.

World-premiering at the Venice Film Fest (as opening night) and playing in Telluride and Toronto Film Fests to great critical acclaim, Warner clearly has a winner that every avid moviegoer would want to see when it opens theatrically, on October 4.

The screenplay is credited to Cuaron and his son, Jonas, who perhaps made sure that this imagined fantasy is grounded and impressive enough to appeal to very young viewers. (Most of Cuaron’s films have been decidedly made for mature audiences-—remember Y Tu Mama Tambien?)

The long, elegant intricate tracking shots that Cuaron, Lubezki, and visual effects supervisor Tim Webber have designed are pushing the envelope considerably in terms of visual complexity and sound sophistication.

This is particularly evident in the stunningly executed opening scene, a long, uninterrupted take of 12 minutes that at once defines the space (literally) of the saga and places the viewers within its specific milieu, known as the thermosphere, where a small shuttle gradually approaches and envelopes us.

We learn that some crew members have left the shuttle in order to repair the Hubble telescope, leaving Matt Kowalsky (Clooney), a vet astronaut in his last mission, and Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a medical engineer, which is taking her first trip.

Initially, the three astronauts engage in light-hearted dialogue banter with mission control. The cocky and experienced Kowalsky promises to break records with longest spacewalk possible, while the greener Stone is nervous and full of understandable anxieties.
“Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission,” Kowalsky says early on, and indeed, Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) reports that a cloud of debris, caused by a close Russian satellite, is heading their way.

As a result, the ship is pelted with shrapnel, killing the third astronaut, causing damages and severing communication with the outside world. All alone, Stone begins to spin in the vast emptiness.

At first, Gravity seems to be a movie based on contradictions: a magestic epic as well as intimate tale, special-effects driven yet
well-acted by its two stars, Sandra Bullock (in her best work yet) and George Clooney, visually complex yet narratively simple, fantastical (in both senses of the term) yet realistic enough to be compelling.

Unlike Kubrick’s 2001, which was philosophically ambitious and mystical, replete with symbolism and allegory, Gravity is not particularly rich in ideas or characters, but it applies 3D in a manner never seen before. Unlike most 3D pictures that come out of Hollywood, Gravity is impressively ungimmicky. While the director manipulates our field of view, he refrains from using showy tricks, unless they serve the narrative.

Also important is the fact that Gravity knows when and how to end: Running time is only 90 minutes. Several images and sounds are bound to linger on in your memory, long after the screening.

The sight of Bullock, playing a lost astronaut stranded 375 miles above Earth, seeks refuge in an abandoned spacecraft, is something to behold. Curls into a fetal position, that’s replete with symbolic meaning, she (and we viewers) is taking a much needed break from her harrowingly horrific yet exciting journey.

Rendering a likeable performance, Clooney is well cast as Matt, offering most of the tale’s light comedic touches with some witty one-liners.

Though she has been a bankable star for close to two decades, Bullock continues to develop as a dramatic actress and, ultimately, the film belongs to her.

Ed Harris (unseen), who offers the voice of mission control, provides the link to Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and to Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff, which might have been intentional.


Running time: 90 minutes

Released by Warner: October 4
Production: Esperanto Filmoj, Heyday Films
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Screenwriters: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron
Producers: Alfonso Cuaron, David Heyman
Executive producers: Nikki Penny, Chris DeFaria, Stephen Jones
Camera: Emmanuel Lubezki
Production designer: Andy Nicholson
Costume designer: Jany Temime
Editors: Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger
Music: Steven Price
Visual effects supervisor: Tim Webber