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Movie Review: Gravity
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Adam Frazier   |  @   |  
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Movie Review: Gravity Poster

Gravity
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón, Jonás Cuarón
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 90 Minutes
Release Date: October 4, 2013

Life in space is impossible.

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), Gravity stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first Space Shuttle mission. She is accompanied by Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut on his final space voyage.

While performing maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope, disaster strikes. The destruction of a Russian Spy satellite in Earth’s orbit has created a debris storm that is rapidly approaching the Space Shuttle Explorer. Mission Control (Ed Harris) urges the astronauts to complete their work and return to the craft, but it’s too late.

A hail of space junk crashes into Explorer, sending Dr. Stone and Kowalsky spiraling, untethered, into the vastness of outer space. With a dwindling supply of oxygen and no means of communication with Earth, the astronauts venture further out into the infinite to make contact with a habitable Chinese satellite.

Gravity is a high-tension survival thriller and a staggering achievement in special-effects cinema, with brilliant cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. Lubezki has lensed many visually stunning films, including Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También and Children of Men, as well as Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. In Gravity, Lubezki’s camera is untethered – weightless – floating through outer space, capturing images with such grace and fluidity that you feel as if the filmmakers and actors are actually 372 miles above the Earth.

Movie Review: Gravity Sandra Bullock

Gravity is a hard-science spectacle – beautifully choreographed and flawlessly executed – but, in terms of narrative, it’s somewhat lacking. As a straightforward survival story, Gravity fires on all cylinders – like The Grey, Into the Wild, Cast Away – but, when the film tries to add emotional weight to its simplistic story and one-dimensional characters, it feels labored. Bullock and Clooney aren’t characters so much as ciphers – symbols that mean nothing on their own but, when included as part of a code, take on meaning. Stone and Kowalsky aren’t very interesting by themselves but, when put through the rigors of Cuarón’s calculated space disaster, they take on meaning.

Bullock’s character is a woman with nothing left to live for, who has journeyed to outer space to escape her irrevocably damaged earthbound existence. Among the stars and satellite debris, Stone is reborn as a woman of purpose, determined to survive. Cuarón and Lubezki choreograph this rebirth exquisitely, with Stone in the “womb” of a space station. She has shed her cumbersome spacesuit and is floating in zero gravity, curled up in the fetal position. A collection of wires and tethers are carefully framed to resemble an umbilical cord as she floats in suspended animation. The space station is on fire – and the flames have pushed Stone to the bottom of the station, into an escape pod.

When the escape pod is birthed from the station, its parachute gets caught on the structure – another umbilical cord still attached to its mother. Stone is forced to suit up again and journey out into the uncertainty of outer space to cut the cord from the escape pod and free it from its mother. She finds herself in that moment – a woman who, in the face of death, finds the strength to live.

Gravity is structured like a next-generation video game. The astronauts are faced with one challenge after another – objectives that serve as checkpoints, marking the character’s (or player’s) progress as they navigate the film’s various locations (or levels). Throughout the film, Lubezki utilizes a first-person point of view, reminiscent of shooters like Halo or Call of Duty. You embody the characters, their arms are yours, reaching out for something to hold on to. In 3D, this method of filmmaking is all the more immersive. You feel as if you are violently spinning out of control at times, in danger of drifting into the abyss.

There are also numerous references to classic science-fiction movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien, as well as more recent space-centric films like Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and Duncan Jones’ Moon. Gravity, however, is not a science-fiction film. While its setting is outer space, it is a man vs. nature survival story through-and-through, transcending genre. Take Sandra Bullock’s character and make her a deep sea diver low on oxygen who must escape an underwater research station before it explodes and you’ve got essentially the same movie.

If you’re expecting a deep, philosophical discussion about the cosmos and man’s place in the universe, you’ll likely be disappointed by Gravity, which is more of a race against the clock thriller than contemplative science-fiction parable. Still, Cuarón and Lubezki have created a visceral cinematic experience; a visual triumph that elevates blockbuster filmmaking to the next level.

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