as seen in IMAX 3D
Wow.... Incredible. Wow....
On the twenty-minute drive home I had after viewing Gravity, my vocabulary had been reduced to space dust, and I could only utter those words over and over.
This is singularly the best science fiction and survivalist story I have seen. With the opening sequence, the first shot--a constant dance through space as we traverse through the vacuum and spin around our characters as the scene progresses--is mindblowing when you realise it is all one continuous shot for a very long time. Shots like these and more will make every filmmaker wonder and beg how this was accomplished, and it will put every audience member smack into the experience and forget that this is a movie they're watching. I am sure that being viewed in 2D, the effects of the stunning visuals would be lessened, so take this review at the stance of an IMAX 3D viewing, but even so, anything said about the story would remain the same.
As I've already addressed, the camera work in this film is nothing short of amazing and seeming impossible. Along with long, continuous takes that tumble through the space as our characters often tumble and weave just the same like some violent and yet exquisite tango, there are shots that begin as an outsider's perspective looking at the story and our characters, only to turn just slowly enough into POV shots that take us straight into the mind of the character. The intensity of the story heats up through these sequences, as we realise just how lost we--and Dr. Stone--are out here in the silent vacuum of space.
Zero gees seems like it would be difficult to simulate in films, and in movies before, this has either been by the mastering of wirework or motion capture CG work. I'm left wondering exactly what techniques were used here, but there is no doubt that one or both these techniques--and perhaps some advance in the technology--was employed. The realness of zero gravity depicted as Bullock makes her way through the narrow passages of the station--and how fluidly she does this--while her body and face seem to remain absolutely CG-less is stunning to contemplate. What of these sequences were digital and what was live? I cannot see past the illusion and am eager to find the answers.
Other visuals I wanted to touch on were a few specific ones that have stayed with me long after viewing and those that really amazed me upon first seeing them. This goes along with the effects work of zero gravity in that there is one scene wherein Bullock manages to finally make it inside a space station/satellite. Out of air and breathing CO^2, she finally pressurises the airlock and takes off her space suit. As she then stretches out, like something of a floating ballerina, she finally and slowly collapses inward into a beautiful fetal position suspended in the airlock in front of the light coming in beyond the window. The tubes that decorate and dangle in the space glide with her body through the air, tangling until one becomes like that of an umbilical cord. This image is outstanding and feels so significant to the arc of her story, of a mother who long ago lost a child and who is reborn through the sacrifices of her colleagues and circumstance.
Moving on, the sound design of this film was pure perfection. We all know the movies where sounds of explosions and engines are carried through space, and until Joss Whedon's Firefly/Serenity, I thought it might be a long while until another filmmaker attempted the same lack of sound. The sound of this movie was present in mostly low rumbling and muffled grating noises that coincided with the characters' movements, as if to signify motion and the wilderness of space that the characters experienced more than sound itself. Thus, when debris flies their way and begins to tear their shuttle/satellite apart, only the close hits can be "felt" through the rumbles of the sound. To that effect, the score, never too bold and never stepping on the toes of the loneliness of space, makes the danger real and evident, propelling the characters through space and through their struggle to survive the catastrophes and the cold vacuum.
This is the story of Dr. Ryan Stone, as made evident by the several POV shots used to put us in her head. This is the story of her trial to survive the harshness of space. We are immediately taken in by these characters, the way they interact, their professionalism mixed with the spice of fun, how alone they really are amidst the floating voice of NASA. Immediately, we know how these relationships will progress and we know that no matter how hard we wish against it, these people are in for a wild ride. The attraction between Bullock and Clooney's characters is easily seen by the way he speaks with her, though, they are always at a distance. Their suits and the vacuum between them make interaction beyond words impossible, and this makes their relationship all the more interesting. If this movie spanned a longer running time and gave opportunity to see these two outside of their suits, it's plain to picture the sexual tension that would rise between them.
Which makes this the point where you should stop reading if you haven't already viewed this movie. SPOILERS are floating below. Skip the next paragraph.
All this build up makes dealing with what happens so difficult. We all know the moment was coming, we all knew that this was Dr. Stone's story and that Matt would soon depart. The way in which he leaves, the classic "Don't let go" death, is somehow made fresh with their interaction and Clooney's calm execution of the motion and dialogue combined with Bullock's begging breaths to not be left alone. Her struggle without him is heartwrenching, and though we want so desperately for her to be able to save him, we know that this would ruin the sheer beauty of this story. As she goes about trying to fly the damaged pod, we cheer with her and urge her to, please, make it back to Earth. Her monologue as she then later gives up hope and gives in to the fact that she will die brings a tear to the eye. All this culminates toward the instant Clooney's character shows up again, but when he opens the hatch to space, exposing an unhelmeted Bullock, we know that--given the gritty realness, the "gravity" of this movie--this cannot be real ... he cannot be real. She is imagining all this, on the verge of dying and past the point of losing hope. Their exchange is emotional and the magic movies should be made of, and once it is revealed that he truly was a figment of her imagination, her renewed drive to plow through space and make it to the Chinese station is invigorating. Her farewell to Matt is so moving in the way it is written. It is beautiful to see how a touching goodbye is done by asking him to instead say "hello" to her little girl. As she then makes her way through the station and into the pod to begin the launch sequence, the score steps up a beat and throws us into the climax wherein she accepts the possibility of life or death, having done everything she could to survive. She splashes down on Earth and emerges to swim up to the shore, and the last image of her standing as the camera tilts up and follows her body as she laughs and then walks into the distance remains stenciled into our minds.
It takes longer than the length of the credits to come off the high of this experience, and it's one of those movies where I've had to battle against going straight back into the theater to watch it again immediately. This was a visually stunning masterpiece, complete with superb sound design, a courageous cast, and a stellar story. The production design seems minimal when mulling it over, as it dealt with so much CG work, I'm sure, but the sets and costumes and overall design of the piece was truly remarkable. Everything about this movie felt real and emotional. My helmet goes off to the amazing minds that made this experience possible. I will always treasure the memory of watching this for the first time, an experience like no other.