Once in a blue moon a film comes along that changes everything. From the classic American masterpiece CItizen Kane to Hitchcock’s game-changer Psycho, by-way of Star Wars and Jurassic Park. There haven’t been many, but these movies shake their audiences and push the paradigm to deliver something really quite special. The newest addition to such a list of course comes in the form of Alfonso Cuarón’s mind-blowingly cinematic Gravity.
Gravity focusses on first time space-walker Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock) as she and her charmingly veteran colleague (an effortlessly lovable George Clooney) attempt to fix a space station orbiting the Earth. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan and Stone soon finds herself alone in the dark, empty depths of space, desperately searching for a way home.
Although it may appear on the surface that the key elements to the plot seem really rather straight-forward, and that space-set conflicts aren’t exactly new territory for modern cinema, it’s in fact Cuarón’s approach to the picture that really sets Gravity apart as something quite special.
Visually, Gravity entices like no other. Long, sprawling takes whip through a maze of unimaginable terror as disaster strikes Bullock’s Stone again and again, in what feels like a seemingly real setting. The computer-rendered landscapes of outer-space are consistently convincing throughout; the tiniest details make all the difference, enforcing the focal danger as completely legitimate. Never once are we dragged away from the action; Cuarón wants to impose a completely authentic experience on the viewer and does so perfectly.
By utilising the most advanced cinematic technology on offer, Gravity combines its stunning visual effects with cleverly realised 3D. Having shot the film in said format (instead of post-converting the final cut), Cuarón uses the extra dimension to create an immersive and far more sustained image, as opposed to employing it for exclusively gimmicky purposes. This gives the film a greater visual integrity and a far sharper and more detailed appearance whilst continuing to further push the dimensions of cinema.
Where Gravity really breaks new ground however is in the usually unnoticeable sound department. Ignoring Hollywood rule, Cuarón pursues his goal of realism by subtracting a great deal of sound-effects from the film’s soundtrack and instead simply implementing them as vibrations through the speakers (sound can’t travel in space). This feature really needs a substantial sound system to work fully but when it does, we’re put firmly in the shoes of Bullock’s Dr. Stone. We hear exactly what she does, nothing other than the sound of her own breathing and distress, generating a new layer of tension we never thought possible.
As technically masterful as it may seem, it must also be noted that Gravity is in no way a victim of “style over substance”. With its dazzling visuals, attention is clearly drawn away from plot, but a deep and emotional script does sit at the heart of it all. Dialogue is consistently convincing, and alongside the dramatic ordeals, the script really works to force a genuine and emotional investment in Stone’s survival. Bullock amplifies this greatly with a finely-tuned performance that never misses a single beat. She works almost independently to force a mostly technical film into becoming completely human – an incredible feat, especially given the unconventional shooting methods involved.
Ultimately, Gravity pushes the limits and conventions of cinema in a way unlike any other. Its sheer craftsmanship alone must be admired, but when combined with a phenomenal, tour-de-force performance and a simply stunning script, Gravity crosses over the threshold into clear masterpiece territory. An instant piece of film history.
Gravity (2013), directed by Alfonso Cuarón, is released in UK cinemas by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12A.