In and of itself, outer space is a thrilling concept--the suspended notions of speed and light; the immensity of its void; and the obliterated concepts of limitation and control. It is, much like death, a perpetual unknown for humankind, and therefore an evergreen canvas for science fiction.
However, given the small cast for Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, “Gravity,” his director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki, serves as the unsung commanding co-star to Sandra Bullock (“Dr. Ryan Stone”) and George Clooney (“Matt Kowalski”) in a movie that melds a science center presentation of outer space with the thriller genre in a new imagining of being lost in space.
Distinct from “Apollo 13” (1995) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “Gravity” is its own Epcot experience in moviegoing that may not be matched on a small screen, delivering a valiant effort at a story that is mostly delivered in monologue. Removing the storyline, Lubezki, whose work ranges from “A Little Princess” (1995) to “Children of Men” (2006), captures a movie that must be experienced in IMAX, delivering adults into a place of fragility, one that makes the film’s PG-13 rating a little light.
Fueled by photography that is a perfect complement to Cuarón’s vision, “Gravity” is mastery of sensory-driven storytelling. The film is a harrowing experience for its audience, who may feel, at times, like supporting characters in the story. In fact, the film's expert use of 3D is complete with bouts of light nausea and exhaustion.
Within the first 30 minutes, Cuarón imbues his viewer in the story of a woman, already wrecked with nerves, whose first trip beyond holds of earth is the absolute worst case scenario. Broken satellite debris fires full force at Dr. Stone and her supervising astronaut companion, Kowalski, as they collect data miles from their spacecraft, with nothing to grasp hold of except for a hard-fought assemblage of personal determination.
The collision wipes out the characters’ connection to mission control, back down on Earth, separating them from their ride home and comforting companion, Houston. The plot that ensues is less driven by dialogue, which for the most part, is not compelling. Instead it is film that could be silent, commanded by images of Earth, the dark vastness of space, and the brilliant use of IMAX 3D.
Cuarón directs a script, co-written with his son Jose, that allows a space thriller its nude presentation--one without aliens and heavy crews of astronauts--driven by the elements of space that birth both great fear and great imagination.
A wondrous scenario, the film also inspires a curiosity for the science of aeronautics and the plausibility of those firewalls that offer the film its pulse. The challenges that Bullock’s character encounters unravel with such succession, it is not clear whether the unrealistic options available to her are a flaw in storytelling or a throw to an intent audience. Because for the most part, it is very easy to feel locked into Cuarón’s fantasy. If you are wishing to experience space flight, "Gravity" is a less expensive ticket.
The previews do not hint at what to truly expect from "Gravity": a new decoration in the art of enwrapping the public mind in bated and intoxicating suspense.