Sandra Bullock amazes in 'Gravity,' a masterful display of cosmic terror

Humanity has longed for the stars — their serene magic gives birth to dreams and stretches humankind's daring. The endless blanket of stars twinkle into infinity. It's a quiet god hovering breathlessly, reigning untamed and unmastered. Life in space is impossible — a cold grave sustained by a furnace of desire. And the human race sacrifices their lives to understand the gentle chaos beyond the blue.

BULLOCK'S CAREER DEFINING PERFORMANCE

In a career defining performance, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, the competent space-virgin who battles nausea in the weightlessness. Co-astronaut Matt Kolawski, played by George Clooney, exudes Clooney-esque charm as the yarn-spinning veteran who hopes this mission, being his last space expedition, allows time to break the spacewalk record.

Together, their crew begins repairing the Hubble Space Telescope three hundred miles above the earth. On their spacewalk, Houston Mission Control reports that orbiting earth is wreckage from a Russian anti-satellite test gone wrong. The high-speed debris is picking up more parts as it rips through nearby satellites. The damaged satellites disrupt communication between Houston and the astronauts. They are cut off when the debris field tears through their shuttle. The telescope is split apart. And Dr. Stone is launched, spinning. She is alone. She is gasping at an oxygen tank only 10% full as she careens into the immense, cosmic gulf.

And this is only the first shot of the movie.

Gravity becomes the least of Stone's problems. She battles against fire, water and air in 90-minute intervals between blitzes of debris cloud destruction. The drama is commanded by Bullock's performance. The intensity is let loose by uninhibited filmmaking. At one moment you share Dr. Stone's breathing space. Another moment and she is a speck against the backdrop of an exponentially blooming torrent of calamity and metal.

"JAW-DROPPING CINEMATIC SPECTACLE"

Alfonso Cuarón writes and directs "Gravity" into a jaw-dropping cinematic spectacle encapsulating the gorgeous beauty of space and the terror right around the corner. With his son, Jónas, as co-writer, Cuarón unfolds a sometimes awkward script into a jarring achievement combining showmanship and suspense. Backed by composer Steven Prince's terrifying and minimalistic voice of electro-drones and pounding strings, Cuarón hauls you through visceral and unpredictable images.

Frequent collaborator of Cuarón and Terrence Malick, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is hypnotic. Cuarón and Lubezki are already established masters of the long shot. But the shots in "Gravity" makes their work on "Children of Men" play back like test footage. Entire scenes are captured in one shot. The camera glides through finely lit landscapes of vast emptiness and desolated stations, switching effortlessly between moments of reverent awe and nail-biting anxiety. It is dizzying. It is entrancing. Not since 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey has the cosmos looked this majestic.

SHOULD BE SEEN IN 3D

With theaters oversaturated by 3D films, "Gravity" could be dismissed as just another movie cashing in on the gimmick. But this movie should be seen in 3D. And it should be seen on the largest screen possible. It is one of the best uses of 3D since "Avatar," especially considering "Gravity" was converted to 3D in post-production. Fortunately "Gravity" has a much leaner runtime and more engrossing story than its sci-fi forerunner. Sandra Bullock's human performance alongside Cuarón's finessed direction of uncertainty saves the film from being simply a technical achievement. To say that "Gravity" is merely a visual treat is not enough.

"Gravity" is hard to describe because it is worthy of justified evocation. But language makes its description nearly inexpressible. It is poetic. It is a metaphor about grief. It is an erratic ballet in zero-g on a stage made of light-years where death is a matter of centimeters. Set against the silent void of outer space, "Gravity" becomes one of the quietest frenzies projected onto a screen. Past the titanium eruptions and the suspensions over earth, beyond the catapults and crashes and sights of grandeur is a film about a woman grappling to her last breath to return home.

Your Turn.  Post a Comment

  1. John W. Morehead

    And let's not forget about the spiritual aspects of the film. Lovecraft's idea of humanity's meaninglessness, his 'cosmic terror' looms in the background. In addition, Bullock's character reflects the ambiguous spirituality of late modernity. She wrestles with whether life is worth living after the death of her daughter in an accident, she laments that no one ever taught her how to pray, and later speaks to her late astronaut comrade and asks him to carry a message to her daughter in the afterlife. At the conclusion of the film she looks up into the sky and says, "Thanks." Much here beyond the cinematic spectacle. October 10, 2013

  2. Benjamin

    Well said, John. October 16, 2013

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