It is unimaginable how difficult, disorienting and downright tedious it must have been to shoot “Gravity,” a new thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. However, director Alfonso Cuaron pulls it off beautifully. “Gravity” is set in outer space, but not Hollywood outer space, where astronauts can stand perfectly still with ease, wearing their paper-thin spacesuits and making noises with their laser guns.
This is the real outer space. Gravity, in addition to many other earthly luxuries, is absent. As a result, Bullock spends much of the film spinning and floating through space trying to find a way back to Earth after the space station is destroyed.
“Gravity” is one of the most exciting, nail-biting thrill rides to come out in 2013. Unlike most thrillers, all the action remains realistic and perfectly plausible through the whole film.
Although the trailers give off a “2001: A Space Odyssey” vibe, the space setting is only taken advantage of in the visual sense. Do not expect any astronomical themes, thought-provoking philosophical questions or alien attacks. “Gravity” feels more comparable to “127 Hours,” as both chronicle brave survival stories (though “Gravity” is not based on a true story).
The movie runs for 91 minutes but feels shorter, which may have something to do with the great cast; their strong performances and charm pass the time. Bullock’s career has been made up of great achievements and major disappointments, but Dr. Ryan Stone is undoubtedly one of her best characters. Going all out, she adds layers to a character that could have been one-dimensional.
It is also amazing how a top actor like George Clooney can still play your average Joe convincingly. He did it for “Up in the Air” and “The Descendants,” and he pulls it off again in “Gravity.” If we’re going to be stuck in the uncomfortable, claustrophobic environment of a space suit for an hour and a half, it might as well be with Bullock and Clooney. What’s more is that Ed Harris can be heard as mission control, reprising his role from “Apollo 13.”
But the real standout performance, in my opinion, is Cuaron’s directing. The Mexican filmmaker, who proved himself a masterful director in 2006 with his sci-fi dystopian film “Children of Men,” has a great ability to capture scenes in a way that makes viewers feel as if they are experiencing the action firsthand. For example, in “Children of Men,” he filmed an entire car ambush scene from the inside of the car to create authentic passenger views. In “Gravity,” he moves the camera into Bullock’s space suit. Before we know it, we are the ones floating through space.
Though Cuaron tries to use 3-D to its full potential here, it feels unnecessary. All the wide-angle shots of Bullock and Clooney looking down at our blue-and-green planet are incredible enough; we don’t need the third dimension.
At the halfway mark, Bullock mumbles, “I hate space.” By that point the audience sort of does too. Never before has outer space played the sole villain, exploring a fear and excitement rarely seen in movie theaters. One thing is for sure: “Gravity” will put to rest the little kid in you that ever wanted to be an astronaut.