In just 90 minutes (including the credits!) Alfonso Cuaron has, in Gravity, managed to fit in more interesting work than many directors do in three hours and create a genuinely exhilarating thrill ride of a movie at the same time.
The story is, relatively, simple, as our lead pair Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are caught in an orbital disaster stranding them in space – to say much more would certainly lead to spoilers and I was glad for not knowing what was to come, so I won’t say much more on that.
But, while the story is engrossing enough and the performances are, I have to admit, far better than I expected with neither Bullock nor Clooney exhibiting their usual irritating presence and both being genuinely convincing in their roles and evoking some genuine emotion in the quieter moments, it is the direction and creation of the films other factors that are the most stunning features.
From the start Gravity is a visual tour de force as it opens on a 13 minute shot that takes in a panoramic view of the Earth so convincing there is not one point, even when reduced onto a TV screen, that this looks like a visual effect (though logic dictates it is). This shot then takes on a tour of the exterior of the shuttle while the crew work on Hubble and banter with Mission Control and one another.
This only escalates as disaster strikes and, as the film goes on and things continue to develop, the visuals only get more engrossing. Before I’d seen the film it would have been very easy to assume the effects would be relatively ‘simple’ with a lot of black backgrounds and the aforementioned panoramic views, but this is far from the case.
I had heard and read much about the film before seeing it, some of which decries both its story and its final act as not living up to the expectations many had, I think this does the film a major disservice. While it is, in essence, a simple story, it does take in the nature of the human experience in quite striking fashion that does move in unexpected and interesting directions as the action continues apace.
Seeing the film in 2D it is clear that much of the action is designed specifically for 3D display but it still works in the ‘flatter’ format and it remains very impressive, but it is the word design that really sums up Gravity.
It is clear throughout that Cuaron and his team have gone into this film with a very clear picture of what they were going to come out with and I can only imagine the detailed storyboards and pre-production work that must have been created to make something like this. The fact that Cuaron as director, he and Mark Sangar and editors and Emmanuel Lubezki as cinematographer (amongst several others) all picked up Academy Awards for their work is testament to their achievement.
In the end, what makes Gravity such a great film is how it marries the complex with the simplistic to create something that feels like the most well shot theme park ride in the world, but behind that has a weight to it as well that does what all the best films do of leaving a part of itself with you once the credits have stopped rolling.