Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón
Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a supreme technical achievement and a standard, if mostly engaging, story. When I saw it for the first time, in IMAX and in 3D, I was astounded at the craftsmanship of some scenes but had an underlying “meh” about everything else. After returning to the movie in theaters again, this time in a standard theater with the standard two dimensions, the flaws only became larger.
As Richard Brody aptly put it in The New Yorker:
Cuarón has done a formidable job of piecing together a plausibly coherent material world of space, of conveying the appearance of that setting and the sensations of the characters who inhabit it. But he has created those sensations generically, with no difference between the subjectivity of his characters and the ostensible appearance to a camera of those phenomena. He offers point-of-view images that are imbued with no actual point of view.
The movie works as well as it does because of the audience’s built-in history with Sandra Bullock, who plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a woman who is having a really bad day trying to get back to Earth after a space station accident. Bullock carries the movie quite well, and is aided in parts by the effortless charm of George Clooney’s on-screen persona.
This is a movie meant to be experienced in IMAX because a smaller screen lessens its sensory ability and enhances the vast emptiness of everything else. It was made solely for its own tech savvy and exists because of that technical mastery, not for any tangible idea. Cuarón uses every cinematic element at his disposal to sustain uninterrupted awe, and seeing it in the IMAX format is truly exhausting.
Gravity is a prime example of how the viewing format shapes how you watch a movie, something that continues to shift and mutate as modern distribution models do. It illustrates a viewing experience that must be seen big to be appreciated, which is not necessarily a good thing. Ideally, all movies obviously benefit from a theater viewing. But if, like me, you live in a place where not all (or many) independent movies screen in theaters, you have to take what’s available. If experienced in the regular theatrical format or rented On Demand, a few remarkable sequences in Gravity are even more diminished by clumsy writing.
The movie uses a child’s death to bring sympathy to a heroine that audiences, because of her harrowing circumstances, would naturally sympathize with. Her child’s death was from falling, yes, and she does (spoiler) fall back to Earth at the end, but the exposition is too sloppy to be poetic. The images aren’t, though. Few sequences in 2013 (or in recent years) match the sheer beauty and technical prowess of that extended opening shot, where the safety of Earth dominates the background as a standard space operation quickly turns deadly in the foreground.
There are several other amazing shots in Gravity, too, but what film with cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki isn’t beautiful to look at? It’s an empty beauty, much like space, and itattempts to justify its technological means with a human element. Who better to do this than two of Hollywood’s most charming stars? Gravity is not a cold, calculated examination of a technological takeover, like 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a technological takeover, and a beautiful one at that.