Though "Gravity" is a spectacular achievement in special effects and cinematography, the back story of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), who is a Mission Specialist on board the Shuttle Explorer, made me crazy and angry. Why is it that men, particularly here Alfonso Cuarón, who also directs, and his son Jonas, who co-wrote the script, feel it necessary for every female protagonist to have a tragedy hidden somewhere in their past?
I realize I may be the only critic who allows this minor aspect of "Gravity" to bother them, but it does. Dr. Stone is supposedly, according to our notes, "a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission". Her wise-cracking Mission Commander Matt Kowalski played by George Clooney tries to lighten her mood as she suffers form nausea while installing her latest invention --- a new scanning system --- on the Hubble Telescope. Kowalski is bopping around the stratosphere on his nifty jet pack telling tall tales while she's working to control her motion sickness.
When all hell breaks loose as debris from a destroyed Russian satellite comes hurtling at them, Stone, at Kowalski's command, detaches from a robotic arm and is adrift in
space --- completely alone. These moments of total silence are the most terrifying, as Stone and Kowalski have lost all contact with Mission Control in Houston, and each other.
The annoying part for me comes at a point in the film when Kowalski, in an effort to calm Stone's rapid breathing which is depleting her available oxygen, attempts to get Stone to talk about herself. The information she imparts is meant to be heartbreaking, but for once, I wasn't moved --- I was incensed. And, when the time comes, it is this sad story that motivates Stone to do her darndest to survive. Geez --- is this crap REALLY necessary?
Don't get me wrong --- Bullock gives an outstanding performance. I am confident that come Oscar season, she will be a shoo-in for a Best Actress nom. We feel every emotion she's going through --- and unlike Robert Redford in his solo performance in "All is Lost', she actually talks out loud to herself --- a lot --- which is what you would expect. And, she is in terrific shape! When she sheds her space suit, we get to see how hard she trained for this role, according to her, with two very dedicated dancers.
The visual effects by Oscar-nominated Tim Webber ("The Dark Knight") are simply out of this world --- literally. The technical aspects of all that he and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki (both definite Oscar nominees come February) created are too crazy and ground-breaking to go into here, but if this is something of great interest, I suggest you read more about their intense labors and methods --- it's truly fascinating.
But again, some of the things that Dr. Stone is made to do are totally implausible. Yes, I understand that "Gravity" is a thrilling fictional drama set in outer space. However, the many machinations that Cuarón puts poor Stone through are highly suspect. That may be why some consider this film science fiction.
Despite my few misgivings, I must admit that "Gravity" is an amazing experience --- and one that MUST be seen in 3-D --- yes --- 3-D, and on a BIG screen, preferably an IMAX. It's definitely worth the splurge!
Opinion: See It Now!
I could sum up this review in one phrase: see "Gravity" in 3-D and IMAX --- period. This will ensure the ultimate viewing experience engineered by director Alfonso Cuarón and his huge visual effects crew, numbering over five hundred.
The synopsis: medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are working in space hundreds of miles above the Earth when orbiting chunks of debris smash into their spacecraft, causing widespread damage, throwing their routine mission into total chaos. Without radio communication with Houston control, their chances of returning to Earth are slim and virtually none.
"Gravity" is an instant contender for Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards. And the buzz around Bullock as a possible Best Actress nominee is legitimate and well-founded. She acts alone for much of the film, and while Jeanne wasn't particularly fond of the writing, Bullock's air of credibility in being marooned in space, plus the demands placed on her physically, compensate for any shortcomings in the script. She deserves recognition alone for her panicked breathing, causing her character's oxygen supply to run dangerously low.
Clooney, meanwhile, opens the film flying around the spacecraft in a jet pack that allows him to maneuver in space without being tethered. His portrayal of Kowalski is more like his DannyOcean role in the casino movies with Matt Damon and others --- wise-cracking and generally having a good time. When the situation turns dire for Stone and himself, Kowalski becomes deadly serious as his vast expertise is put to the test to save them.
There is a classic scene in another Clooney film, "The Perfect Storm", where Mark Wahlberg's character is adrift in the ocean, and the camera pulls away until he is barely visible in the vast body of water. In "Gravity", there is a similar scene where the characters are essentially adrift in the vastness of space --- a spectacularly eerie effect.
Other than what I consider a technical flaw at the end of the film, "Gravity" will deservedly reap all the accolades it has coming. It is a visual feast orchestrated by five-time Oscar nominee, Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki, and Tim Webber ("The Dark Knight"), plus terrific original music from Steven Price.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!