I knew two things when I walked out of Gravity the Thursday evening it opened.
1.) It was the best movie I’d seen this year. Yes, even better than Pacific Rim.
2.) It is the first movie I would actively advise people to see in 3D because it absolutely adds to the experience.
At its core an art film disguised in 90 minutes of 100% pure, uncut survivalist adventure, it manages to be one of the handful of films I can say I’ve never seen anything like and I officially predict it will be imitated by others for years to come. Copied until people will watch it in thirty years and wonder what the big deal is simply because it has been so thoroughly disseminated into the popular culture, not realizing how different it was at the time. (The last film I would describe this way is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which has officially began to be “homaged” in music videos.)
Seemingly filmed in large part as a series of long, uninterrupted takes, (honestly, it’s crazy enough that a lot of it could be multiple takes seamlessly put together through movie magic) it almost manages a documentary feel; yet while the camera is in constant motion, it never ends up with the terrible shaky-cam cinematography that has become so much of a crutch to modern filmmakers. It feels like it’s masterfully controlled through the entire film and is always in exactly the right place.
What also makes the cinematography incredible is that, even without lots of crazy tricks and things flying at the screen, it is the best use of 3D photography I’ve ever seen. I think a case could be made for it to win “best visual effects” come Oscar time, even over some astounding efforts from the likes of Man of Steel or Pacific Rim. Earlier in the year I marveled over the conversion job that had been performed on Jurassic Park and how so many things in that film seemed like they’d been created for 3D. This despite many of the things that impressed the most being things that I’d never really seen a 3D movie. Some of the best bits in Gravity are the same kind of beats. Like a close-up of Sandra Bullock’s face inside a space helmet with her breath fogging up the inside, the black void of space stretching infinitely behind her, Earth in the distance at the side of the frame.
Make no mistake, the film is gorgeous. But then so was Sucker Punch and that film was terrible. So what else makes Gravity work? Let me count the ways… First off, it is one of the most leanly constructed films I can think of in a long, long time. It’s not happening in real time, but due to the way the film is shot, (the aforementioned long, uninterrupted takes) it does take on that feeling. And not one second is wasted. We are either learning about the characters or watching as the rhetorical question, “What else could go wrong?” is answered with, “Oh, that.” In its 90 minutes there are really only a handful of quiet moments and they are all essential. They are all integral to the story and documenting the character arc of Dr Stone, a scientist that is not so much a trained astronaut as a specialist that is only there to fulfill one mission. One of the really clever bits is how much we learn about her as Clooney’s veteran astronaut tries to talk her down from a freak out. And then there’s my personal favorite moment of the film; an artful bit in which a space station is used as a metaphor for the womb, live-giving and perpetuating a feeling of safety from the chaos outside.
The film really only has two performances aside from a few voice-overs (including one that’s a bit of a clever in-joke from Apollo 13.) While I wouldn’t say that nobody else could have been in their parts, I know that Clooney and Bullock get people in the door and both do their job well. Clooney plays himself like usual, smarming his way through and getting away with it based on his charms. Bullock has the more weighty role and should prove her worth to those that moaned over her getting an Oscar for that football movie I never saw. She manages to bring a perfect balance to her part; she looks great (there are more than a few non-gratuitous ass shots contained within) but she manages to project enough of her “everywoman” look to feel believable instead of being a supermodel in a space suit. She also manages to be vulnerable without seeming weak or whiny, an important distinction in a film like this.
Almost a full-fledged co-star in the film is a stupendous score that manages to fill the void created by the fact that they actually keep space silent, all sound coming from comlinks and within structures. (Yes, there was sound in the trailer. You will not find it in the actual film.) I am not familiar with the composer, Steven Price (though I should since his two other credits are World’s End and Attack the Block) but after this effort I have a hard time believing he will not manage to begin occupying the same sort of space within the movie composing sphere that a newbie like Michael Giacchino did after his twofer of Star Trek and The Incredibles.
So let Neil deGrasse Tyson kvetch on Twitter like a bitter guy who is mad he didn’t get a technical consulting fee. Gravity is an experience and one you won’t likely forget.
(Five damns given out of five.)