It’s hard to satisfy such high expectations when watching a film after hearing all the hype. I only recently saw Gravity when it returned to the cinema following its many award nominations so I’d already read the glowing 5* reviews and heard it raved about by pretty much everyone everywhere. Perhaps because of this I admit I was a tiny bit disappointed. Controversial but there it is.
If (like me until recently) you’re one of the few people in the world who hasn’t seen it yet (maybe you’ve actually been in space) it’s the survival story of Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a medical engineer on her first space mission aboard the Shuttle Explorer. Whilst making repairs to the Hubble telescope, Stone and her colleague, experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are hit by a debris cloud after the Russians mistakenly detonate one of their own defunct satellites.
Firstly, I totally agree with the consensus that the special effects are truly stunning – you believe that the actors are really in space, in fact I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t real footage. From the unbelievably realistic space walks, to the interiors of the shuttle and the space stations, to the astronaut’s view looking down at the Earth it felt like watching a documentary not a movie. It’s real and therefore convincing in a way that, say, Avatar or LOTR are less so because, impressive though they undoubtedly are, what’s on the screen is clearly fantasy.
I saw Gravity in 3D, a format I usually find overrated, but here it really comes into its own. There are some very beautiful moments: a fire on board one of the spacecraft that appears as little floating globes of vivid orange flame or Sandra Bullock’s tears coalescing and floating weightless around her. I guess if any film is made for 3D then Gravity is it.
Director Alfonso Cuaron’s use of sound is also very clever. One moment a frightening barrage of noise as the space station is bombarded by debris then sudden silence as a capsule door is opened onto the vacuum of space; a stream of disconnected chatter coming over the astronaut’s radio from Mission Control then nothing but the sound of Sandra Bullock’s panicked breathing inside her helmet (that elicited a sympathetic rising panic in me) as her tether breaks loose and she somersaults out into space. It totally captured the strangely simultaneous emptiness and claustrophobia that both frightens and awes me when I imagine what it must be like to be in space.
What let it down, ever so slightly, was the emotional, human element of the story that felt predictable and a bit clunky in places, particularly in the second half of the film. Sandra Bullock is great but I think that any number of actresses could’ve played that role. And that’s not a criticism of Sandra Bullock it’s because the special effects are the real star. They are ground-breaking, breathtaking. The scenes of flaming debris plummeting to earth alongside Ryan Stone’s tiny capsule or the sunrise moving across the Earth looking down from the blackness of space were so beautiful and so moving that the characters and the storyline couldn’t help but feel secondary.
The real essence and genius of this film lies in its scale. I don’t think it will pack the same punch when it’s seen on DVD, or worse, on an iPad or a Smartphone. Not that that necessarily diminishes a film’s value but it does mean you should go and see it now while it’s still at the cinema. Marvel at the CGI and revel in the surround sound because the big screen is where Gravity belongs.