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Film Review: Gravity

There is a scene in Gravity where the camera pans around two astronauts in space for 15 minutes in one single continuous take, then goes inside the helmet of an astronaut, swirls around showing the suit’s UI, and seamlessly pops out of the helmet. It’s at that moment where you realise that in space no one can hear you scream but everyone in the movie theatre can hear you shout daayuummmnn.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Sandra Bullock in a scene from Gravity.

Seven long excruciating years after Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón is back behind the camera with some sort of vengeance to entertain the crap out of you. For some reason Gravity is being billed as a sci-fi movie. It’s not. There’s no fiction here. Gravity is in fact a horror movie, and it’s a masterpiece. There are no aliens here, but a very real, intelligent disaster. Think 127 Hours in space, but significantly more visceral, moving and immersive. Miraculously, it’s also 3D done right — it really is an astonishing cinematic achievement and it’s the only film I’d watch once again on a 3D IMAX screen. It’s also the only film whose filming techniques would be as interesting to watch as the film itself.

So what’s different in Gravity given that there have been other films about astronauts stranded in space? For one, Cuarón is a deadly filmmaker, a shaman. He absolutely nails the staging and pacing of the film, making it a 90-minute tense, dizzying, breathless experience. The detailing, the digital effects work and the long, uncut takes will divorce your jaw from the rest of your face. It’s not just one of the great CGI films of the decade but one of the five greatest uses of CGI in the history of cinema. When James Cameron was fawning over the film, he wasn’t kidding — Cuarón, Lubezski and their special effects team really have crafted something extraordinary here.

Apart from using groundbreaking technology like an LED box that’d change filmmaking as we know it, Gravity has a ‘believable’ disaster plot and a heroine who is quite different from the stock scream queens that you expect from Hollywood. She is smart, she has a reason to make us root for her, and more importantly, she’s heroic rather than corny, ping ponging between her primal urge to survive the disaster and her existential wish to stop trying. Sandra Bullock is terrific here, always convincing, despite the green screen around her, holding the film on her own in the vast emptiness of space.

There are some scientific fallacies in Gravity but laws of science can’t be questioned anymore seeing as Sandra Bullock broke them — she probably went around the space time continuum and aged backwards, because she looks 30 despite being 50. Except for Clooney’s wisecracks, the lines (written by Cuarón’s son Jonas) are mostly pedestrian and simplistic, but not grating. One thing that I actually found problematic was a scene where the heroine’s weakest moment has a man saving her — it’s a tiny nitpick but it’s a little jarring to see a strong female protagonist being rescued by the hero in a film built around a strong independent female.

Regardless, all flaws of Gravity become infinitely smaller the bigger the screen. On the IMAX screen the film is perfect, utterly faultless. Cuarón clearly takes inspiration from video games with POV shots of Bullock’s character shuttling from one space station to another. One first person sequence where she changes her space suits and heads out to repair the damaged station is straight out of Dead Space. If this movie makes money, it’d have the potential for Hollywood to invest a bit more into smart original movies than shameless 3D cash grabs. If you’re interested in that kind of a future, you should buy your tickets right about now.

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