Saturday, 7 December 2013

Gravity (2013) Review

This week (actually, a few weeks ago), I strapped on my space suit and moonwalked down to the local cinema to check out Gravity (2013) starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and directed by Alfonso Cuaron.

Gravity takes place in space. That's pretty much the plot synopsis right there. Bullock and Clooney are working on a satellite when all hell breaks loose. It then turns into a fight for survival.

Even that synopsis is too long. I could sum up this film in two words:

Absolutely beautiful.

Visually this is, hands down, one of the most stunning pieces of film you will ever see. The movie starts off in space and stays there for the duration. Some of the laws of space are even observed. Most notably, the lack of any sound. This means that, while all this crazy destruction is going on around them, all you hear is Bullock and Clooney talking and breathing in their own suits. Oh, and the soundtrack...

Steven Price did the soundtrack for this movie and it's brilliant. You go in expecting grandiose, orchestral music to accompany the sci-fi space setting. You don't get it. What you get is some amazing ambient tones and music that manages to get you exactly where you need to go to appreciate the scene in question without bashing you over the head with it. It's a truly unique approach and a welcome surprise in a movie that was full of them.

The special effects are not only top notch, but they seem nearly impossible. In the past, when a movie wanted to simulate weightlessness, they'd send the cast and crew up in a plane ironically called the "vomit comet". It's the same plane used by NASA to train it's astronauts. It does, in fact, render everyone and everything weightless, but only for a brief period of time. Apollo 13 is a good example of a movie that utilized this feature.

For Gravity, however, the vast majority of the film takes place in a zero-g environment. You get long, beautifully shot takes of Bullock and Clooney blissfully floating around completely weightless. I scratched my head trying to figure out how it was done. I won't spoil the experience for you, but I actually had to look it  up to see how they did it. If you'd like to know, you can too!

That's not to say all is well. While the movie is very tightly edited at 91 minutes in length and is largely wall-to-wall action and adventure, it suffers greatly from a lack of backstory and character development. I appreciated the sequences and the non-stop pacing, but I found it difficult to root for anyone in this film. I don't know them. As I said, the movie starts off with them already in space and just stays there. No flashbacks. No long pieces of exposition about past experiences (save one that isn't very long nor is it very impactful). Just them. In space. Fighting for their lives. Pulse-pounding? Absolutely. Did I much care about either of them? Not really.

The film is a triumph of visual effects. It's a groundbreaking movie much the same way Star Wars and The Matrix were when it comes to showing off just what someone can do with technology and imagination. It's a bit of a shame about the characterization, but you'll barely notice it since you won't leave the edge of your seat once the debris starts to fly.

4 out of 5 stars
Gravity (2013) Review
Reviewed by The Bitter Critic on Dec 07 2013
Rating: 4

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