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Gravity 3D – film review

October 10, 2013

GRAVITY 3D

A truly immersive experience which demands to be seen in a cinema – or not at all.

Reviewed on Thursday 3rd October 2013

gravity-debris

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Written by Alfonso Cuaron & Jonas Cuaron. Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Running time: 91 mins.

While conducting a routine spacewalk to carry out maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope, seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalski and first-timer Ryan Stone become stranded in low Earth orbit when debris from an exploding soviet satellite destroys their shuttle. Now the couple’s only chance of survival is to reach the International Space Station before their oxygen runs out.

In a peculiar way, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity brings to mind the ending of John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s 1972 seminal student film Dark Star – where the characters of Talby and Doolittle are forced to fend for themselves following the destruction of their ship. The scene where Clooney and Bullock are drifting apart is very similar to a moment in this earlier film. This is ironic really, considering Dark Star was actually a parody of the seriousness of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – a movie to which Gravity has been dubiously compared. A more recent and dare I say it; more appropriate comparison which presents itself is William Eubank’s excellent shoestring masterpiece Love from 2011. These two films share a tangible sense of isolation – although Gravity is more nuts and bolts and matter-of-fact and not nearly as existential and philosophical as Eubank’s criminally-underrated feature debut.

Gravity is undoubtedly the most convincing portrayal of human beings interracting with a hostile alien envirnonment seen since James Cameron’s The Abyss in 1989. On seeing Gravity, Cameron has been quoted as saying, “I think it’s the best space photography ever done, I think it’s the best space film ever done, and it’s the movie I’ve been hungry to see for an awful long time.”

And spectacular it certainly is. From the opening moments, looking down upon the face of Mother Earth as a shuttle approaches from a distance – we are immediately captivated. And Cuaron’s love of incredibly long takes is truly immersive here – we can’t help but feel we are part of the action – made all the more palpable with the addition of 3D (perhaps the most convincing and effective use of the format seen this year). In eschewing the nausea-inducing shakycam and rapid-fire editing style favored by other 3D releases this year, Cuaron clearly shows he is aware of 3D’s limitations (especially on a gigantic maxi-screen) and therefore steers well away from such annoyances to instead focus on creating long floating camera moves which when coupled with minimal editing (only cutting when absolutely necessary) – creates an enormously captivating and enjoyable 3D experience. And Cuaron knows very well how to create incredibly tense scenes; moments which will literally have you white-knuckling the arm rests while yelling at the screen. The most notable of these occurs when Bullock scrambles for the safety of the Soyuz spacecraft – as a second wave of deadly debris decimates the station all around her.

With Australian astronaut Andy Thomas aboard the production as a technical advisor, the depiction of space is the most accurate seen in movies so far. I particularly     like the fact muffled sounds can be heard through the suit from bumping into things and I remember seeing an interview with Thomas years ago where he mentioned this.

The film’s direction and visuals notwithstanding, it really is the screenplay I have issues with here. There seems to be a weird emotional disconnect – in that we       are never fully able to really inhabit the human characters in Cuaron’s otherwise astonishingly spectacular production. The script by Cuaron and his son, Jonas, very much has the feel of a rushed first draft and perhaps could easily have done with       a couple more rewrites – or at least a decent polish by another writer. Clooney’s character is way too relaxed, jovial, even blasé about the duo’s predicament to elicit any genuine concern over their possible fates. And his penchant for having piped music blaring out over the comms while tooling around in his jetpack (irresponsibly consuming propellent I might add) – is cringingly cutesy and could indeed be considered a direct steal from the character of ‘One Night’ in Cameron’s The Abyss. The dialogue here is awkwardly clunky at times and laughably ridiculous at others – particularly during a scene where Bullock is instructed by Clooney to stop talking     to conserve her rapidly depleting oxygen reserves – only for him to completely contradict himself five seconds later by firing off a nonstop barrage of questions       at her (in an effort to keep her calm) – thus forcing her to unnecessarily deplete       her oxygen supplies – what?!

I’ve never been particularly fond of Sandra Bullock as an actress. I’ve always found her to be kind of bland and unremarkable. And her casting here does little to sway my opinion of her. I understand Angelina Jolie was originally pegged for the role, which wouldn’t have been all that terrific either. Perhaps someone like Julianne Moore might have done something interesting with the part.

Structurally, the film suffers from repetition in the second half and the finale is somewhat convenient and implausible, however overall it manages to achieve what     it sets out to do – giving the viewer a visceral thrill ride and the approximation of an experience one might not otherwise be in a position to have.

As Gravity is clearly meant to be seen in 3D on the largest cinema screen possible (Imax or similar), I very much doubt the story and characters are compelling enough to sustain interest once all the immersive spectacle is stripped away for the home video environment. I have a feeling this is one of those instances where a movie     truly demands to be experienced in a cinema – or not at all.

And so I find it problematic scoring this film in that, on the one hand – as a cinema-going experience; it is absolutely unmissable, but then on the other hand – I just can’t gloss over the story and character flaws which it also has. So as a result, for the first time ever – I will be capping my review with a dual rating:

As a spectacular big screen 3D cinema experience: 5 stars out of 5

As a standard movie: 3 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4  – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed in V-Max 3D at the Event Cinemas Marion, Adelaide, October 3rd 2013.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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12 Comments
  1. Fantastic review! Keep up the great work 🙂

  2. I knew if anyone would be reviewing this and giving me a straight honest answer it would be you Greg! 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks TC! – You can always count on me! 🙂

  3. I’m sure this is an excellent review as always but I’m gonna wait until I’ve seen it to read it. Not out until Nov 8th here. 😦

    • gregory moss permalink

      Gee that’s a turnaround – Oz getting a movie opening before Blighty?! 😉 Make sure you see it on the biggest screen possible – and in 3D!

      • Rub it in why don’t ya! 😉 yeah – I’ll be booking tickets as soon as I can but not sure I’ll make it to the biggest screen. I’ll try!

  4. gregory moss permalink

    Hehe 🙂 I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  5. I said I’d be back when I saw this! 🙂 Aww – I’m sorry you were a bit disappointed. 😦 I understand your issues with the script and characters but I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie anyway. And I’ve never been the biggest fan of Bullock but I thought she was really good in this and I liked her character a lot. (I did see this in IMAX 3D, btw. Glad I did!). Great review as always. 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers table9 – glad you like it! And I’m pleased you saw it in all its IMAX 3D glory! 🙂 Even though I had issues which took me out of the movie – it will still be on my best films of the year list. 🙂

  6. Film of the year for me. I saw it just before Christmas in Imax 3D and yes it was amazing, but I dare say it’s still impressive in 2D. Regards the flaws, well, here’s my take on it- I don’t think what we are seeing actually happens, I think its really more like the film Jacobs Ladder. See my review on my blog for details. Let me know what you think.

    • gregory moss permalink

      I have heard that idea elsewhere – it being a riff on ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ – or even earlier: ‘An Occurence At Owl Creek Bridge’. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time I see it. Nice review, by the way. 🙂

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