Movie review: 'Gravity'

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, because there isn’t much of it.  “Gravity“, the new film by Alfonso Cuaron (who also directed “Children of Men” and the most offbeat of the “Harry Potter” films) suffers from a bit of clumsy expository dialogue in the opening scene, and it tries too hard to deliver its message about letting go, moving on, and discovering how to live in the course of fighting for survival.  The subtext is about as subtle as an all-caps text message.  

Also, while the movie is a generally accurate and realistic look at life in orbit – by far the most serious look at the subject since “2001” and its sequel – the scenario that sets the plot in motion is a bit far-fetched.  Hollywood might be scared to death of offending the Chinese and losing access to their lucrative movie market, but apparently the makers of “Gravity” were not worried about hurting Russia’s feelings, given the orbital missile hijinks that kick off the chain-reaction catastrophe which strands George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in space.

Those are very minor gripes about a truly astonishing film.  “Gravity” is an entire theater full of people forgetting how to breathe in unison.  You’ve never seen anything like this before, and even in an era of CGI special effects that make the impossible seem routine, you will occasionally have trouble believing what you’re seeing.  I wasn’t sure I’d ever find myself thinking “how did they do that?” in a movie theater again.  Thank you for that, Mr. Cuaron.

There isn’t an ounce of fat on this film.  The exposition data dump at the beginning occurs during a 20-minute unbroken single take, swooping around a space shuttle and the Hubble Telescope, that will rank as the most incredible opening sequence since that endless Imperial Star Destroyer went lumbering after Princess Leia’s blockade runner.  There aren’t many cuts in “Gravity,” which makes it feel more realistic.  You are there, right alongside Sandra Bullock as she gives the performance of a lifetime in what must have been an extremely demanding shoot.  

Clooney is great, too – sometimes it seems like he’s never quite achieved his potential as a movie star; here’s another reminder that he most certainly is one – but Sandy owns this house.  Actually, she owns several houses, drifting far above an impossibly beautiful Earth (the most serious critique of the film’s accuracy to come from astronaut Buzz Aldrin is that Earth doesn’t look quite that crisp from space.)  Every house she enters blows to pieces around her, in a chain of disasters that drives home just how dangerous space and zero-gravity environments are.  Momentum is your enemy in orbit.  It just about qualifies as a super-villain in this film.  Sandra Bullock gives us a heroine equal to the challenge, a person who was empty inside until she realizes she’s not willing to let the void of space consume her.  She’s one of the best audience surrogates ever to hold the center of a thrill-ride tornado.

I can’t recommend “Gravity” enough.  It’s one of the few movies that really does qualify as a roller-coaster ride.  You’ll get a nice core abdominal workout from leaning forward in your seat.  And it’s just not going to be the same on any but the most over-the-top home theater setup.  It really needs to be seen in a theater, on the biggest screen you can find, with 3D if you can get it.