Gravity

Date: October 2013

Release Year: 2013, Director: Alfonso Cuaron, IMDB Link

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I’ve been fascinated by space since I was a child. At that time, my fascination had nothing to do with intellectual curiosity, since I knew nothing about astrophysics, relativity theory, cosmology, etc… It was more like an enthrallment, born from thoughts of adventuring through vast and unexplored territories, unraveling the mysteries that they hold… you get the idea. Although I didn’t end up studying astrophysics, I became an astronautical engineer, thus I am partial to any artistic production that depicts space travel, astronauts and so on. So I have to say that I am a bit biased regarding Gravity, since it is very easy to be impressed by this movie – for a guy like myself.

Cuaron made his way into my `directors to follow` list with his 2006 masterpiece, Children of Men. In my opinion, that movie was the perfect combination of stunning visuals, interesting characters, and captivating storytelling. While Gravity almost completely ignores the character and plot development by focusing on visuals, it is nevertheless a breathtaking experience from start to finish.

The movie takes place almost entirely in space, where a group of astronauts are taking a ‘spacewalk’ to service the Hubble Space Telescope. When the Russians launch a missile to retire one of their defunct satellites, things get out of control and the debris from the destroyed satellite starts a chain reaction of destruction. Soon, most of the crew is killed and the remaining two astronauts are trying figure out a way to return to Earth, while struggling to survive with a limited supply of oxygen and most importantly, the lack of gravity..

Well that is the premise of the movie and the plot is fairly predictable, the characters are single dimensional and the dialogue is sparse and uninteresting most of the time. Then how come this movie gets such a high score? The answer is simple; because of it’s amazing.. wait let me capitalize that, AMAZING cinematography and visual effects. I am well aware that the superior visual effects alone do not make a good movie. If that were the case, then Transformers or Wrath of the Titans would be timeless classics, and surely they are not.

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The keyword here is cinematography, the way the camera dances in the vast emptiness of space, the close-ups on astronaut’s faces, seemingly never-ending spins into infinity and of course, brief moments of peace and isolation decorated by beautiful views of Earth. The cinematographer Lubezski and director Cuaron have managed to produce the most realistic, exciting, and mind-blowing space scenes that ever been displayed on the big screen. The way the movie depicts how humans lose perception of direction without gravity is brilliant. It makes you realize there are no simple “ups and downs” in the space. Oh, by the way, many of these scenes are single-take shots, a trademark of Lubezski-Cuaron and it works stunningly well in this movie.

Besides all that brilliant camerawork, the pace of the movie is also tailored towards making the audience feel the sense of danger, isolation and claustrophobia at all times. You can tell that the director and writer spent countless hours on storyboards, crafting each scene so carefully that every single moment builds up to the overall tension and excitement. The soundtrack, orchestrated by Price, also makes a significant contribution in that aspect.

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I was a bit surprised by some of the negative reaction to the movie from my friends and reviews on the Internet. Most people seem to nit-pick some factual errors in the movie or pointing out the weaknesses of plot and characters. Well I guess everybody has different expectations from a movie, but to me, complaining about the plot in this movie is like saying, “There weren’t enough funny jokes in this war drama” or “The visual effects of this romantic comedy weren’t very appealing”. The point is, like I said many times in this review, the plot and characters are totally irrelevant to this movie. Just sit back and enjoy the madness.

Having said that, I think Cuaron shot himself in the foot by trying to incorporate some character development into Bullock’s character, especially in the second part of the movie. I think that was totally cliche, unnecessary and cheesy. It was obviously written solely for the purpose of having a little bit of story in the movie. I would have enjoyed the movie much more and even give it a higher score, if it contained zero dialogue and character development. It just distracts the viewer and adds nothing to the atmosphere of the movie.

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Some movies need to be watched and some movies need to be experienced.. Gravity falls into the second category. From start to finish, it is a visual experience and a sequence of images that are likely to be stuck in your brain for a while. By the way, do yourself a favor and see this movie in IMAX. It is totally worth it.

Definitive Scenes: The single-take 13 minute opening sequence, exterior scenes at ISS, interior scenes at the Chinese space station and the final re-entry sequence.

Score: 8.5/10

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