Excuse the pun, but this film is going to pull a lot of weight in the technical categories at the Oscars next year. It is a breathtaking piece of filmmaking, reportedly 8 years in the making and the brainchild of Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and his son Jonás Cuarón.
The film has an extremely limited cast comprising ostensibly of George Clooney, as the seasoned NASA veteran on a last shuttle mission and out to beat his personal spacewalk record, and relative rookie Sandra Bullock.
About the only other speaking parts in the movie are the voice of mission control in Houston (a nice touch, using Ed Harris who played Gene Kranz, the waistcoated mission controller in Apollo 13) and a fellow spacewalker (can’t remember his name… let’s just call him “Mr Polo”).
Due to a satellite disaster of biblical – but believable – proportions caused by a stray Russian missile, the routine mission is not just put into mortal peril, but recurring mortal peril – every 90 minutes that you can set your watch by. Who lives? Who dies? Who cares? Well, actually, you do since although you know this is a display of special effects at their finest, the tension is effectively built up, and constantly jolts you every so often. Who would have thought that some escaping air from the opening of an airlock would make you jump with alarm – – not once, but twice!
Space special effects are pretty easy to produce. After all, I’m the guy who parodied 2001: A Space Odyssey with a dog biscuit and a space station dog! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G32hHFqO_nM). But even I have to admit that for a large percentage of this film my jaw was on the floor with thoughts of “how the hell are they doing this” whizzing through my mind. Weightless scenes in Apollo 13 was famously filmed in a mock up of the command module inside the “vomit comet”: a plane executing a parabolic trajectory to simulate zero G. As such, all of the weightless scenes are 15 seconds long or less. There is no such limitation in Gravity. For all I know Cuarón really did take his cast up there and filmed it for real… was Richard Branson an executive producer?
Also notable is the soundtrack and the sound design in general. This is at times a very QUIET film, and for that reason alone the sale of popcorn and Chinese Crackers should be banned for this flick. The quietness is nicely punctuated by incredibly loud music insertions (music by Steven Price, normally a music editor on lots of films, including Lord of the Rings). Effectively done I thought.
Most of the plot is nicely executed, particularly the scene where George Clooney is miraculously rescued from certain doom. And there is a ‘make you jump’ scene which is as effective as dear old Ben Gardner’s head in the boat in Jaws. Sandra Bullock is a bit of an acquired taste though. True, she nicely reenacts a ‘Sigourney Weaver getting out of a spacesuit in Alien’ scene, and she certainly has worked hard on her body (note in the credits, not just one “personal trainer” but TWO!). But some of her dialogue is a bit cloying, especially a bit about “shoes under the bed”: I for one found her a bit gratingly “American” by the end of the film. She will probably be nominated for Best Actress though, whatever I think.
There are also a number of scientific anomalies. Granted that they recognise that sound doesn’t propagate through space, so the only sound you hear is that heard ‘through’ air-connected objects (which is nice – no ‘Star Wars’ space explosions), but surely if a human body is exposed to deep space, it would just explode from the gas contained within it (as nicely depicted in Sean Connery’s excellent Outland many years ago)? That notably doesn’t happen with the doomed crew of the stricken shuttle. And the ending of the film, trajectory-wise, whilst mathematically POSSIBLE is extremely unlikely.
All in all, this is a highly recommended film – an engrossing watch and (with Captain Phillips) one of the notable “must sees” in the run up to the 2014 Oscars.
Fad Rating: FFFF.