In this era of CGI overkill, moviegoers have reached eye-fatigue. One can only see so many processed images that look only slightly realistic. As many leaps as have been made in technology, there'a flat, cartoonish feel to modern spectacle.
This is one of many reasons that the new film 'Gravity' feels like a game-changer. The visuals are so compelling and immersive that you feel adrift in space with a crew of astronauts who are in grave danger.
'Gravity' is directed by Alfonso Cuarón, previously known for the gloomy sci-fi thriller 'Children Of Men.' It possessed a bleak beauty and bravura camerawork, especially in a long-tracking shot of a car chase.
'Gravity' takes this approach to new heights, and it's the most audacious use of long-cuts in film-making since Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rope.'
The plot is fairly straightforward. A space shuttle crew are making repairs to the Hubble telescope when they're assaulted by flying space debris from a destroyed satellite. Those who survive are in a hard-pressed case to survive.
Those survivors are Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Stone is a newbie who still gets nauseous in space and is unsure of her aptitude. Kowalski is the seasoned veteran, who's cool head and caring demeanor make him the guy that anyone in their right mind would want on their side in such a precarious situation.
In order to survive, they must make it back to the ISS space station. Problem is it's 60 miles away, they're low on oxygen and there's more space debris on its way.
The tension involved in their plight is so expertly staged that you'll be gasping for air yourself.
Much of 'Gravity's' appeal is the jaw-dropping visuals. Cuarón had a modest budget by today's blockbuster standards ($100 million) but he was able to achieve remarkable results. The illusion of anti-gravity is thoroughly viable and the set-pieces are spectacular.
Much praise should also be foisted upon cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who gives everything an eerie, gliding grace.
As characters, neither Stone of Kowalski are over-developed. Their backstories are slight. But it doesn't matter, because the need for survival and the risks that come with it are all the film needs to rivet your attention. They stack all the decks against our heroes, making their fates truly uncertain. You won't be able to guess the outcome by any trailer.
Most use of 3-D these days is a marketing gimmick, pure and simple. Not this time. 'Gravity' is a movie that uses the technology to the peak of it's power, even more so than 'Avatar.' You truly feel up there with Bullock and Clooney. Weightless and isolated, looking at the gorgeous vista of Earth while not being able to wrap your head about how to get back to it.
This is a movie made for the big screen and for IMAX. And while it may be targeted as a suspense or action film, there are moments of pure terror to equal the best in sci-fi horror.
'Gravity' is a Warner Bros. film. It's rated PG-13 and runs 91 minutes.