Gripping at times, repetitive in others and visually masterful as a whole, Gravity is a space odyssey the likes of which has never been seen, yet is let down by a script that is not as refined as its wondrous special effects.
Alfonso Cuaron is a filmmaker of immense talent whose last film the 2006 sci-fi thriller Children of Men saw the Mexican director at the peak of his skills. For all intents and purposes Gravity was to be the film that would not only be a game changer in the upcoming awards season (still to be determined) but would join the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien as a pivotal sci-fi set in space. It half completes that mission.
As the film opens on Earth in its big blue glory we are gobsmacked by the immense craft and skill placed into these visual effects. It is a watershed moment in sci-fi cinema equal to when Stanley Kubrick bowled audiences over with (the before mentioned) 2001: A Space Odyssey and George Lucas amazed when his fleet of spaceships hovered across the screen in Star Wars. That we can still be amazed by such VFX in today’s tech-heavy day and age is a wondrous thing.
A team of NASA astronauts led by seasoned vet Matt Kowalski (George Clooney in all of his charming wise cracking glory) are about to wrap up repairs on a satellite when a catastrophic series of events leaves Kowalski and medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) adrift in space.
It is a terrifying and unimaginable ordeal that Cuaron spectacularly depicts, putting his actors through the ringer as the zero-gravity environment of space twirls these characters around like a ragdoll in a washing machine.
Yet in Cuaron’s telling of two astronauts desperate attempt to defy impossible odds and make it home, a repetitive cycle swirls into an almost comical series of errors as anything bad that could happen does happen again…again…and again. Where the tagline for Alien was “In space no one can hear you scream”, the tagline for Gravity just could be “In space no one can here you yell: Oh, come on, man! Not again!”
Needed was a script filled with characters strong enough to add depth to the visual wonder and distract from Cuaron’s repetitive structure. It is Stone - introverted, terrified, searching for meaning while trapped amongst nothingness – that plays the part of emotional anchor, conduit into this terror and unwilling (yet eventually welcoming) pilgrim into an intense spiritual journey. Yet while Bullock delivers a physically gung-ho performance, the limitations of her craft only exemplifies the lacking depth of Cuaron and his brother Jonas’ script.
Gravity has and will be compared to many films, but perhaps the most astute comparison is to last year’s Life of Pi. The difference is that film successfully combined the visual, emotional and spiritual to stunning effect. Gravity simply does not.
Still, there is a lot to admire about Cuaron’s sci-fi opus. While his reach just exceeded his grasp when it came to the films emotional pull, Gravity is leaps and bounds beyond on a visual level, proving that there can be substance in style.