Friday, October 4, 2013
Movie's directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuaron, who's a Mexican dude who grew up wanting to be an astronaut...I gather there just isn't much chance for a Mexican to be an astronaut if he doesn't get involved in the Mexican military, and maybe not even then...Mr. Cuaron wound up making movies instead, and well, he does it fantastically. I've only seen three of his films, but I thought Prisoner of Azkaban was a big step up from the Chris Columbus Potter movies, and that Children of Men was one of the best science-fiction films I'd ever seen, featuring these long set-piece action sequences which appeared to be single takes, even though they couldn't possibly have been anything of the sort.
Gravity begins with just such a sequence...I'ver heard it's twelve minutes full of extremely complicated business, all in one seamlessly blended ostensible shot. But whereas the stuff in Childsren of Men had been terrestrial action, in Gravity, we're outin space, with the camera (or whatever seems to be the camera in these digital days) sliding in and out among loads of completely convincing VFX. It's all extremely audacious, and will certainly be the envy of special effect long-take masters such as Spielberg and Zemeckis; this sequence simply kicks their asses.
But it's just for starters.
The film gets blasting really quickly. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts on a US space shuttle out trying to repair the Hubble Telescope. A series of long shots meld into close-ups then swing back out and in again...we get a pretty good idea of what the shuttle and the telescope are like, Bullock and Clooney are doing something outside, we don't really care what it is. Within a very short time, it's established that a bunch of space junk is headed their way, although no one is quite sure if there's a problem...the music gets effectively foreboding, and we learn there's a problem for sure, and all this terrible crap starts blowing through the Hubble and the Shuttle like cannon-balls and bullets. Bullock goes flying off into space with her tether snapped; this is sheer white knuckle suspense, totally nightmarish. Clooney, who's got a jet-pack, goes out to save her...the first twenty minutes of this flick are more exciting than every movie I've seen this year put together, and it just keeps rolling from there. A one-damn-thing-after another quality does begin to set in, but no sooner has that thought crossed your mind when you're plunged into a new totally convincing horrific situation with a top-notch director making expert use of very engaging actors and some of the best special effects that have ever been committed to film, or digital.
What's more, the screenplay is very solid. As I said, everything gets going extremely quickly, and the breathers are just long enough to prepare you for the next tornado of bad. We get some backstory at a couple of junctions, but it's actually interesting, and you get well into it before you even realize that what's you're listening to. There are a few scenes, especially towards the end, that are surprising and genuinely moving. Clooney is extremely likeable (as almost always), and Bullock is endearing in a way that the last few Bullock vehicles might've made you forget about.
As for those quibbles, well...I don't think the Hubble telescope is in anything like the same orbit as the Russian Space Station or the Chinese one....it would've been a very long haul. Also, I didn't get a very clear take on what Sandra Bullock, who seems to be a just plain doctor, would be doing on the space station at all, let alone participating in extravehicular repairs. Maybe this sort of thing actually happens, I'm no expert, and I don't know. Also, I don't think we get a reason for why the Chinese space station suddenly begins dropping out of orbit...it is depicted as abandoned, and maybe there was a line that wound up on the cutting-room floor, about the Chinese just letting it falling out of the sky. But mostly, the science in the film seems to be a considerable cut above what you have in most space movies. It can't quite compare with Apollo Thirteen, which is the gold standard space flick in my opinion, but...A13 had the advantage of being a true story where everything really hung together because, well...it happened.
You may be amused by Gravity's ground control...yep, it's A13's Gene Kranz, Ed Harris.
All in all, whenever I had a problem, the stuff onscreen was just so stupendous that I told my little niggling back-of-mind voice to just shut the eff up. Go see this thing. I hope it's a huge hit.