A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Year 2, Film #33
THE REVIEW: If I haven’t made my affinity for space apparent yet, you’ll most definitely get that after this review for Gravity. This is without a doubt one of the most suspenseful, realistic, and thrilling space films ever made. And this is no hyperbole; beginning to end is pure thrills and heart-pounding excitement.
One aspect of the film stands out the most and it’s probably an aspect people will have preconceived notions about, either good or bad. I’m talking about the drawn-out nature of the film. There are extremely long takes — the first shot of the film must last at least 15 minutes, maybe more — and there is an absence of constant action. A lot of the film is the two astronauts Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Dr. Stone (Sandra Bullock) just floating out in the vastness of space. This is very apparent in a lot of the film’s marketing — a few trailers were just 90-second sections with no cuts — and I thought it showed a lot of promise. One may think it could simply be boring and that fear is valid; how can you make floating in space for 90 minutes exciting. Well, director Alfonso Cuarón finds a way and exceeds well above everyone who came before him.
The first thing going in his favor is that he follows the laws of physics: there is no air pressure in space, therefore sound cannot travel. Not only does Cuarón obey this law of physics that most major, and minor, Hollywood films ignore, but it is one of the biggest builders of tension the film has. It’s eery when you don’t hear anything. Lack of sound can be just as powerful, much more powerful even, than a blaring soundtrack with effects and music. With no sound, you don’t know what’s coming next. With no sound, seeing the destruction of a major object feels strange because there are no explosions filling your ears. You’re left holding your breath for the next thing to happen, and in Gravity, you’re left holding you’re breath for a while.
Back to the long takes, this was the second biggest builder of tension in the film. Like with the lack of sound, the lack of cuts just keeps the tension building since you keep expecting the camera to cut and go to a different angle. A good editor knows how to hide cuts and make it feel as though there are none. But cuts are more present than you may realize. Watch any movie and verbally make a note whenever there’s a cut. You’ll probably talk at least ten times per minute on average, likely more. So when it’s a straight shot for 15-plus minutes, you expect something to happen. You’re expecting what you see to change, and it doesn’t. And when there finally is a cut, there’s a large release of tension.
And then there’s the performances given by George Clooney, and of special note here, Sandra Bullock. These are the only two actors seen in the entire 90 minute runtime (other people seen, but they aren’t acting if you catch the drift — ha, look at that, drift) and therefore the film rests entirely on their shoulders. If their performances don’t stand up, the rest of the film will fail. And Clooney and Bullock deliver; big time. Bullock especially demands a lot of attention and does a fantastic job of portraying what the feeling of being stranded in space. Hope and optimism are things that are hard to come by and Dr. Stone’s struggle to stay positive is one of the most chilling and unnerving performances I’ve seen in a while.
From a broader perspective, one of the most interesting things about Gravity, and what proves it’s a really great film, is that the time just seemed to fly by. At 90 minutes, Gravity isn’t anywhere near a long film — it’s on the shorter end of the runtime spectrum — but when the film was over, I felt as though it just started an hour ago. The time really does fly, no pun intended. And that’s the sign of a really good film: when you get the elapsal of time that occurs, but it feels shorter than it actually is. Not once did my mind wander or did I feel bored. I was engrossed the whole time and was really invested in the survival of the astronauts.
Gravity is a spectacle to behold and will blow your mind for the entire 90 minutes. Alfonso Cuarón directs this masterpiece using a lack of sound and long takes to build up a lot of tension and then skillfully decides where to release it for maximum effect. This is the most suspenseful and dramatic film I’ve seen so far this year and it’s going to be a tough one to beat. I can easily see Sandra Bullock receiving an Academy Award nomination as well as noms in sound, cinematography, and other technical categories. While I strongly feel that Gravity deserves a Best Picture nomination, if not win — that’s way too soon to tell — but at the same time, the space setting could prevent that nomination from being awarded even though it’s highly deserved. Go see this one in theaters, you won’t be disappointed.
Gravity opens in theaters this Friday, October 4, 2013.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5