Wow. Just wow.
The hype is justified. It isn’t often a film of such cinematic magnitude graces our screens, but Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity really can join the ranks of Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and – most obviously – 2001: A Space Odyssey as films that it ought to be a criminal offence to watch on television. The very idea of someone viewing Gravity on a television screen makes me go all hot and cold. It must be seen in a cinema, on the biggest screen possible, and in 3D. Yes, I’m not normally a fan of stereoscopic cinema, but like Hugo and Life of Pi, this is another rare exception where the extra dimension really adds something integral to the film.
There has already been talk of possible Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for this film, but the race for the visual effects Oscar is surely already over. Gravity doesn’t merely push the envelope in that field; it pushes the entire postal service, privatises it, and sells off the shares to wealthy chums of the Tory party. OK, the metaphor doesn’t really work but you understand my general point: you’ve never seen anything like this. No, you really haven’t. Gravity is a nail-chewing, white knuckle thrill ride that will have you staggering out of the cinema feeling like you haven’t breathed for ninety minutes.
The mind-boggling logistics of the opening, unbroken seventeen minute shot is astonishing in itself. I found myself wondering how on earth Cuaron had managed to piece it together. For all intents and purposes, the film looks as if it was shot on location in space. No other film (except 2001: A Space Odyssey) has conveyed the sheer vastness and emptiness of the Universe in such an overwhelming way. Everything from the weightlessness to the endless variations on the hoary old “there’s-no-up-or-down-in-space” make this a visually unique experience unparalleled in cinema history. You will be totally convinced. Disbelief will be utterly suspended. Unless of course you are the dullest breed of physics pedant (I’m no scientist, but I’m sure there is plenty of dramatic licence contained herein).
The screenplay (written by both Cuaron and his son Jonas) has a stripped down B-movie aesthetic, with astronauts Ryan (Sandra Bullock) and Matt (George Clooney) desperately trying to get back to Earth after debris from a detonated Russian satellite ends up circling the Earth at bullet speed – laying waste to anything in its path with every orbit. This recurring nightmare is just one of many obstacles faced by Ryan and Matt in their quest for survival.
But Gravity isn’t just about disaster movie action. There are moments of awe-inspiring neo-Kubrickian beauty amid the Cameron-esque thrills – including a magnificent view of the Northern Lights from space. The film’s soundtrack is every bit as vital as the visual aspect, not just with the sound effects (or lack of in a vacuum), but the excellent music score by Steven Price.
Nor is this mere spectacle. Ultimately Gravity is a film about grief, with Ryan trying to come to terms with the accidental death of her four year old daughter. In one shot she floats in an airlock in a foetal position – an obvious but effective allusion to emotional rebirth. The existence of God in the Universe is duly pondered, and one moment in particular – with a zero-gravity tear symbolising a prayer – rates as arguably the finest marriage of visual effects and acting performance in cinema history; poetic, beautiful and deeply moving. Incidentally, this is a career best turn for Bullock. Clooney is merely excellent as usual.
A word of caution: although this has a 12A rating, which in the UK means parents can bring along children under that age, I would generally stick to 12 as a minimum age in this instance, as Gravity is an extremely intense experience. Alright, I confess I took my nine year old and he loved it, but he is genetically engineered for cinema. So do as I say, not as I do.
In conclusion, I must reiterate this absolutely demands to be seen in the cinema. Please, please, I beg you not to watch it at home, even if you have the snazziest home cinema set up imaginable. If you only see one film at the cinema this year, make sure it’s Gravity.