I’ve just seen Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film, Gravity, and, well, just… wow!
It’s a stunning piece of work, and I was just blown away by it on every level.
Fear not – I won’t be spoiling the film in any way, and will say as little about the plot here as I can. Because I deliberately avoided learning anything more than the basic premise in the run up to this film as I thought that I’d enjoy it that much more.
Sandra Bullock is Ryan Stone, a mission specialist on her first trip into space where she is helping fix the Hubble space telescope with astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). The film opens with an epic single shot in which the camera swoops and dives around the shuttle and space telescope as Kowalski tries out a jetpac and Bullock, along with another astronaut, carry out repairs.
Very quickly we get into the very simple plot of the film. There’s been an accident in orbit with a Russian satellite that has left debris on a collision course with the astronauts. They need to get out now.
From that point on, the film becomes a thrilling, epic and sometimes horrific ride. While it doesn’t quite take place in real time, we follow procedings over a matter of hours as we stay with Stone as she attempts to cope with a situation that tests her to the limit.
I admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Sandra Bullock, despite her making some decidedly average films over the years. But she’s turned in a superb performance in this – a film she has to carry herself. Clooney is great as the grizzled veteran, telling homespun stories to Ed Harris’s voice in Mission Control, Houston.
This is a film that takes place entirely in space. After the initial set-up, the cast is spartan indeed.
But the story is really only the tip of the iceberg as to why this film works so well.
The visuals are almighty. The technique that they used to CGI a human Sandra Bullock into animated space scenes is exceptional. There is a strong sense of reality – something that’s so hard to do with CGI (and why films like 2001 and Star Wars still stand up with their use of miniatures).
Remarkably, I actually liked the 3D. Yes – on occasion Cuarón does the things-out-of-the-screen things, but actually he uses it very skilfully. When things are spinning out of control, you feel the desperation of the characters trying to get a grasp on the situation.
The camera spins and zooms around with wonderful control. at times in the film, the camera becomes a first person viewpoint, emphasising the claustrophobia of the space craft.
And yet, at no time does it feel like the special effects teams – led by Tim Webber and the team at Framestore in London – is trying to show off. What would it really look like? That seems to have been the watchword. And we’re offered a visual feast throughout.
But perhaps even more important is the sound. It’s extraordinary, and you really need to see this film is a cinema with a fully equipped sound system. Indeed you need to see this film at the cinema fullstop. From the very first scene introduced with a deafening sound, we’re given an extraordinary mix of the sound of silence, effects and Steven Price’s soundtrack – often all at the same time. Even the way the silence of space is captured is remarkable.
The Verge has a great feature on the sound including a terrific 10 minute video that is perhaps worth only watching once you’ve seen the film, although there aren’t really any spoilers within it. It does get heavily into the whole world of object-oriented sound that they used as you get with systems like Dolby Atmos. This is clearly the future of sound.
The film is, at heart, an action thriller, so you need to view the film in that light. And if you look around online, you’ll probably find plenty of criticism of the science. I wouldn’t doubt that for a moment. But I will say that it looks and feels as real as any film set in space that you’ve ever seen. The obvious comparison is Apollo 13 which recreated that infamous mission with as much verisimilitude as it could muster. But you also have to look to the peerless 2001 A Space Odyssey as well as films like Contact or Sunshine, all of which took their science seriously in science fiction stories.
Go and see this film on a big screen with the best available sound system you can find!