Saturday, November 09, 2013

Gravity - a spoiler-free review

The screen goes black and some ominous white writing appears, giving us some Super-awesome Spacey Facts™ with "Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly mindbogglingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space" (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) sadly not being one of them.

And then we're treated to an awe-inspring shot of Earth, looking more beautiful and vibrant than you've ever seen it, and then we're quickly closing in on a distant scene of Astronauts working on the Hubble telescope in one unbroken 17 minute shot.  

Director Alfonso Cuarón is responsible for my favourite film of all time in Children of Men, which is an absolute tour-de-force of Cinema (and I'm not just saying that because it features a wonderful performance from Clive Owen, fellow Cov Kid). From a variety of wonderfully shot scenes one particular one stands out in that - one which follows our lead characters travelling in their car and driving into - and escaping - an ambush in one brilliantly choreographed shot which is so long and so perfect you have no idea how anybody could achieve that. The opening of Gravity takes that scene and laughs heartily in its face like a nutter.

The opening (and the length of it) is vital because it's where Gravity quickly establishes it's rules - The concepts of up and down are useless out in space, and our two main characters are Ryan Stone, a medical engineer on her first trip into space (a never-better Sandra Bullock putting in the performance of a lifetime) and Matt Kowalksi, a veteran astronaut on his last (George Clooney).

And the repair job on Hubble goes without a hitch and they both safely land on Earth in their shuttle and the remaining 73 minutes is a delightful romantic comedy about how they both fall in love despite their apparent differences, learning a little bit about each other - and a lot about themselves - on the way.

...but of course that isn't what really happens. The call comes through from NASA that a debris field from a destroyed Russian satellite is caught in Earths orbit and is heading towards them.  Dozens of pieces of spinning razor sharp shrapnel each travelling at the speed of a bullet. It's wiped out satellites along the way and they'll shortly lose communication with Earth.

And what remains is what can only be described as 73 minutes of incredible spectacle that'll leave your heart in your mouth and you'll have to remind yourself to keep breathing. The plot won't be up for any screenwriting nominations but it keeps the pace moving nicely and is just tight enough to keep the perpetual sequence of disasters believable enough.

Sandra Bullock is absolutely remarkable in it. The part was originally going to go to Angelina Jolie but I'm so glad that she didn't get it - Bullock is an everywoman - albeit an everywoman with astronaut training. She's new to the terrors of space and we experience them with her. Jolie is a bit too Hollywood for my liking, and couldn't have brought the same level of depth to the rule that Bullock manages. And that's not a sentence I thought I'd ever write about Sandra Bullock.

So, Film of the year? Definitely. In the top 10 list of all time favourite films? A big yes to that at well. Favourite film ever? It's up there, but It'd work hard to topple Children of Men - but it may just be that my two favourite films ever now share the same director.

Go see it, and go see it on the biggest screen you can in 3D. It deserves to be seen of the big screen because it will lose nearly all impact on television screens - It'd be like riding a rollercoaster with a motorcycle helmet on.

And it's great that a film can be called Gravity and not feature much of the stuff at all.  It'd be like calling the next Big Mommas House film "Comedy" or the next Michael Bay film "Subtlety".

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