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Gravity (2013)

October 6, 2013

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If watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in theaters is not the best cinematic experience you’ve had thus far in a movie, then you’re watching it wrong. Gravity sucks you into its air tight vacuum and squeezes until your lungs let out a panicked gasp and you’re left gulping for air before you finally remember to breathe. Space is a dangerous place for rookie Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowlaski (George Clooney). While working on repairing a part for the International Space Station, debris from an exploding satellite destroys much of the crew and their way back to Earth. A horrified Ryan is left floating weightlessly attempting to cling to any rope or handles that cross her path. As she whirls around aimlessly in space, Ryan must experience the five stages of facing one’s morality as the fight to survive the opaque abyss begins.

My first attempt to see Gravity was thwarted by a broken projector bulb which resulted in our theater’s IMAX experience being downgraded to the smallest screen in the building. My crew opted to ditch such a scaled down showing and instead wait for a much late, but premium 3D experience. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made. Watching Gravity in any other way than on a huge screen in 3D should be illegal. In fact, it shouldn’t even be a viable option. The atmosphere of disillusioned solitude along with the innovative way Cuarón captures movement and tension can only truly be experienced in a pitch black theater with the sound blaring which prompts your mouth to salivate and your heart to pound in fear.

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Cuarón’s name alone was reason enough for me to feel giddy excitement when I heard of his association with Gravity. A visionary in every sense of the word, Cuarón makes Gravity a visual spectacle certain to take your breath away on more than one occasion. Cuarón is most well-known for his impressive, painstakingly detailed long takes. Certain scenes from Gravity, like its 13 minute opening tracking shot, actually caused me to inexplicably express my awe in loud whispered expletives. As characters float aimlessly through space, the camera hovers gently behind them at times capturing their actions and dialogue in one singular fluid long take, creating nervous tension with every second that drifts by.

Zooming is handled in a way that makes the age old motif appear new and fresh. When a long shot focuses on a white suited dot of a body pinwheeling out of control, it slowly zooms closer towards the object, slipping through a nether black sea littered with blips of light before it halts on a tight close up on Ryan’s panic stricken face. Then the shot continues its zoom into her helmet spinning with her until the perspective somehow changes from third person to point of view allowing us to witness the twirling dishevelment happening as Ryan’s suit warns her of her impending danger.

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Now, despite Cuarón’s breathtaking direction, his screenplay results in Gravity deflating after its first act. While Sandra Bullock pulls the greatest performance I’ve seen from her, following Ryan begins to get a bit dull, especially when much of her struggles are obviously the cause of cinematic fluff than real danger. The anticipation and fear for her life is taken away as the film slowly but surely exposes itself as being the product of a major studio. Ryan’s perils don’t seem realistic when the malfunctions and bad luck she encounters become commonplace, along with her convenient salvation and lack of physical harm, despite the unpredictability’s of space. Personally, Cuarón’s screenplay lacks the ambitious philosophical discussion I craved; instead Ryan’s struggle to survive is met with cliched lines, convenient plot devices, and a bland ending that reminded me dollars needed to be made.

I also couldn’t help but find fault with the obnoxiously epic score that pieced together scenes of the film. The finale of Gravity left me more underwhelmed than fulfilled at its unrealistic end accompanied by a soaring swell of music similar to the likes of The Lion King. When asked what she enjoys the most.about suiting up, Ryan responds by saying “the silence,” a sentiment that Cuarón could have benefited from by instead filling the void of space with more of production mixer Chris Munro and sound designer Glenn Freemantle’s astounding work.

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These small, but very present, hiccups within Gravity distracts a full immersion into the film’s atmosphere. At times I was right on board with the film; listening to Clooney’s advice and sipping my breaths instead of taking big gulps when Ryan’s oxygen becomes dangerously low, and I experienced the woozy effects of breathing in CO2. Yet, there were other times I was propelled out of space back into my sit in the theater fully aware that I was merely watching a film during moments where I began to sigh in slight disappointment at the route the film chose to take.

Regardless, Gravity reminds viewers how small we truly are as well the vastness of our universe and how magnificently perfect our imperfect planet is. Cuarón’s omniscient view allows us to see distant landscapes, clouds swirling, storms of flashing lighting brewing, and the beautiful glow of electrical combustions causing Aurora Borealis. In one scene Ryan hilariously comments in exasperation, “I hate space.” The statement is warranted due to the condition she finds herself in. Its ability to show not only space in its extravagance, but its polarizing existence is the reason Gravity is so phenomenal despite its script’s shortcomings. While its future run on smaller screens in 2D will be interesting to say the least, it’s definitely a film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen available in pitch black.

SEE IT.  Despite a pretty conventional script, Gravity’s visuals make it the most astounding cinematic experience. Ever.

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