By Ari Dassa
It seems like every year a new movie is hyped as being a “game changer” because of new technological advancements with digital cinema, CGI and 3D, but the reality is that very few of these movies live up to their promise. This year Alfonso Cuaron’s survival-in-space thriller “Gravity” is the center of attention, but unlike so many pretenders, this film delivers something unique and extraordinary and feels like the first movie where 3D is not just a gimmick, but something that feels essential to the full experience.
It’s difficult to discuss what happens in “Gravity” without spoiling the film because the story is very thin on plot and very focused on situations and set-pieces, one after another, escalating in tension and suspense and drama. The situation that sets-up the bulk of the film’s 90 minute runtime is a stunning one-shot opening where astronauts, mainly Ryan (Sandra Bullock) and Kowalsky (George Clooney) are working in space until some debris unexpectedly hits them and destroys their shuttle. The rest of the movie is about how they try to survive the perils of space as they attempt to reach a station and return to Earth.
Cuaron’s digital (a better word might be “virtual”) cinematography is the visual genius of the film that will surely change how people approach CGI VFX in future movies. You can almost say “Gravity” is an animated movie, because 95% of it is damn near photo-realistic CG. Since it’s set in space, the camera is not bound by gravity or the technical rules traditionally found in movies. Cuaron’s virtual camera freely floats around in lengthy continuous shots as it follows the characters in their struggle to safety. Zero-G cinema. Some shots take on a 1st person POV, which Cuaron uses at very specific moments to enhance the visual experience of a sequence without making it feel like a videogame.
The excellent sound design and score play a huge role in how the tension builds throughout the film. “Gravity” uses the silence of space as a way to create horror – there are no big explosion sounds when destruction happens. It’s all subtle musical cues and the nervous, terrified voice of Sandra Bullock that gets to you (this IS NOT a sci-fi film, just to be clear. It’s a survival thriller set in space. There is nothing sci-fi about it). Speaking of Bullock, it’s amazing how much emotion she brings to this role as she desperately tries to find her way back home. The moment she accidentally catches a radio signal from Earth and listens to it has an emotional impact that sneaks up on you.
The 3D in “Gravity” is remarkable. The extra dimension adds a terrifying sense of depth and disorientation to outer space (if you get motion sickness easily, this might not be the best film to watch), but it also creates an uneasy sense of claustrophobia when the camera is locked on a close-up of one of the actors. The film is a marvel of digital cinema and will leave you walking out of the theater wondering, “how the hell did they film that?”. Or, as one lady said in the lobby, “I need a drink after that movie!”.
GRAVITY stars Sandra Bullock, and George Clooney. The film is written by Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron and is directed by Alfonso Cuaron. GRAVITY is scheduled for release October 4, 2013. It will also be presented in 3D.
Ari Dassa is an independent filmmaker who has written and directed several short films and a documentary. He was the founder of a film review website called ‘The Aspect Ratio‘, active between 2006 – 2011.