Gravity – Alfonso Cuarón’s terrifying space flick is out of this world…

“Ground-breaking” is often a word that gets thrown around a lot when the latest visually stunning, action-packed blockbuster hits our screens. Yet more often than not the “ground-breaking” side of things only stretches to the visuals rather than the story, with a mindless plot that can’t match the glorious onscreen action. Avatar (2009) was one such film with James Cameron showing exactly what he could do with his new toys (and in 3D no less)…but not much else in an underwritten and lame story. However now there is one film that not only delivers on visuals, action and has taken 3D to a whole new and immersive level, but that has a perfect, tense narrative to match. Yes, if ever there was a film that can be described as the perfect, intelligent blockbuster, it is Alfonso Cuarón’s latest, the nerve-shredding Gravity (2013).

Gravity is something that is lacking in the main characters lives though, both literally and metaphorically. Deep in the outer regions of space floats medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), on her first space mission alongside a fellow veteran astronaut (George Clooney). During repairs they are carrying out, they are caught in a cavalcade of flying space debris from a nearby Russian satellite that causes irreparable damage, the loss of many lives, and leaves them both floating around in a vast, empty nothingness. Their mission?: to make it home in one piece. If the story seems simple, that’s because it is. Yet despite this simplicity it is one of the most riveting stories you will see this year. Written by director Alfonso Cuarón and his son Jonás Cuarón, they have created a story so effective and so well-paced that it barely gives a chance for the characters (or us) to breathe before they are faced with their next challenge. They crank up the tension throughout and deliver big on the scares and thrills from start to finish to create what may be one of the most terrifying space flicks you’ll ever see. And all without an alien in sight…

Yet the other reason the story is so tense and absorbing is the fabulous visuals that accompany it. This film was nearly four-and-a-half years in the making due to the advancement in technology they needed to wait for to make it possible. And the wait is certainly worth it, with stunning visuals throughout. I actually saw it in IMAX 3D and although I usually bemoan the use of 3D in any film, I have to say that this is the one that has proven the possibility of 3D. It shows that when it is done right it really can be a totally immersive technique. Yet even with the usual trick of things flying out of the screen at you, the 3D doesn’t seem like a cheap gimmick. Instead it adds another layer to the film, putting you at the heart of the action and making the really tense scenes all the more scary. In particular the scenes in which the space debris hurtles towards them is absolutely terrifying. The 3D also brilliantly works to convey how vast and empty space really is – a horrific feeling when the film makes it seem as though you are floating right alongside the crew of two.

It is not only the 3D that immerses you though, but the camerawork itself. Alfonso Cuarón’s direction and Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera also completely submerges you in the action as it spins around the frantic astronauts, weaving in and out in often continuous shots (the opening scene is a 17-minute long take) as if we are tethered to them ourselves. Not only this but there are even moments in which the camera goes inside Ryan’s suit to show us what she is seeing, literally putting us there with her at the heart of the horror.

And this is another element that draws you right in to Gravity (see what I did there?) – Sandra Bullock herself. This is without a doubt the performance of her career (not that that’s saying much like…but give her a chance, yeah?). She portrays Ryan brilliantly, bringing a real sense of damage and fragility to this woman who has a lot of secrets she needs to overcome to get home. Most importantly she makes Ryan likeable – we continually root for her to survive and to get over what she fears the most. The other main character in the film is Matt played by George Clooney, who as usual brings his easy charm to the screen. He also brings a welcome comedy element to the story to offer a bit of relief and to stop proceedings from becoming too sombre. Although really this is Bullock’s film from start to finish. It is also incredibly refreshing to see a high-concept thriller of this sort in which a woman (especially a strong and determined one) is the main character, and in which someone plays her so convincingly. Comparisons to Ripley in the Alien films are inevitable…

Every now and then a film is released that is absolutely perfect for the cinema-going experience – a real blockbuster that MUST be viewed on the big screen in order to fully appreciate it. And Gravity is that film in 2013. Alfonso Cuarón has made a high-concept film with cranked up tension which genuinely immerses you in the action of this highly intense and emotional thriller. While the plot seems to be a little on the thin side, if you look deeper it is much more than that – a classic story of one woman trying to come to terms with her past in order to reconnect with society; and even deeper, a beautiful metaphor about the fragility of human life. Watch it in 3D and on the biggest screen possible, or miss out on one of the most marvellous films of 2013.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on December 6, 2013.

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