Friday, 15 November 2013

Gravity Review

It’s always great when technology has to catch up with human creativity then it’s great when it actually does, allowing truly creative people to make something visually fantastic. Much like Kubrick did back in 1968 with 2001: A Space Odyssey showing what weightlessness and zero gravity can be like. Now it’s gone a step further by having a dynamic camera swing around space while Sandra Bullock is in angular momentum (thanks Neil deGrasse Tyson for that) which sees the director, cinematographer and visual effects supervisor work together on every tiny detail.

Story wise you probably know it by now because it’s quite a basic story explained almost entirely from the trailer. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are on a spacewalk when the Russians accidentally fire a missile into one of their own satellites, causing the debris to orbit at ferocious velocity around Earth. From there on it’s better to know as little as what happens because it’s indeed one of the most thrilling films of the year. It is physically exhausting. There are a few moments of relief, of rest, allowing you to catch your breath before the Cuaróns (Alfonso writer-director and his writer son Jonás) decide it’s enough and dragging you into another tense scene that will stop you breathing.

Emmanuel Lubezki has achieved something masterful this time around. Introducing us to this world is a 17-minute sequence complete without a single cut that sees the camera and George Clooney’s Kowalsky float effortlessly. Lubezki’s work in The Tree of Life was beautiful as can be imagined when working with Terence Malick but he’s shown a versatility by going from film with Malick to digital with Alfonso Cuarón which has required them to recreate space in great detail. Not only have they had to create beautiful, believable visual effects but they’d had to do so while in constant motion, aligning light perfectly and doing frame by frame details to make sure it all fits. Attention to detail is always rewarding for the viewer, never mind the beam of pride the cast and crew will feel when they see it all come together.

What the Cuaróns have created is one of the most thrilling action blockbusters ever created because it is completely and utterly relentless. It’s been said often before about how a lot of films are relentless but that’s usually through shaky cam and exhaustive frenetic editing. Gravity is a completely different beast, it’s not a beast at all. Everything is cleanly crafted with a care that separates itself from beasts, from humans, from even being organic; it feels like a sentient, ethereal creation. Frame by frame the crew have gone through designing every single movement to make it seem like the characters are in zero-gravity, there’s been an enormous amount of effort to make it seem effortless. It really does work.

When presenting space, there will always be a theme of religion, gods, God, life, death and Gravity is no different. Cords tied to stomachs constantly represent the umbilical cord and the possible link to the creator in space, Bullock even embraces a foetal position in what seems like a technoutero as if being reborn in space, in technology, where the original creator created. There’s a lot to be read into when looked from that angle as well. Something about being presented with infinity makes artists – and probably real astronauts – question the nature of existence, its vastness, emptiness, chance creation, implausibility. Hell, it’s happening now too.

We’re reminded that life in a vacuum is completely impossible when the film starts and that no sound can travel in a vacuum to explain its absence to the audience. When watching it in IMAX, the ambient, bassy score resonates through every seat in the house. The attention to detail is masterful as we feel the reverberations from any technological equipments like Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone. What is left out in sound mixing and sound design is filled in with an impressive score by Steven Price that makes everything pulsate but will never refrain from subtlety when it is best suited. Sandra Bullock also puts in the performance of her career by dedicating herself fully to the role, completely transforming into the doctor with a fear of death yet an unworldly need to embrace it. The only concern to be had about Gravity is that it is completely cinematic and will lose some of its power outside of a cinema screen. It actually uses 3D well while being a rare combination of relentlessly thrilling, jaw-droppingly beautiful and interestingly existential. See it in 3D. Better yet see it in IMAX 3D. Gravity will shake you. Gravity will tire you out. Gravity will control you.

★★★★½


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