Review: Gravity ★★★★★

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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. 

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Former Film Editor, Film graduate and general supporter of all things moving-picture related. Accidentally obsessed with Taylor Swift. Long-time Ellen Page fanboy.

2 Comments

  1. avatar
    Joseph Henderson on

    Whilst the film undoubtedly has ‘game changing’ visuals, and it would be hard to argue against it being a remarkable technical achievement, surely calling this film a ‘masterpiece’ belittles the very term.

    Whilst I don’t take exception to anyone giving any film a high ‘star rating’, and simply keep in mind that anything good about an otherwise bad film must be, for whatever reason, of paramount importance to that individual reviewer – in this case the technical audio-visual achievements; I take vehement exception to the notion of this film being well scripted, and in the same breath compared to films like Citizen Kane or Psycho. Herman J. Mankiewicz would surely turn in his grave with one of his penned masterpieces being considered an equal to this comparably limp effort.

    The dialogue appears to have been plucked from the Hollywood production line, with no regard to subtlety, and assumes such a lack of intelligence in its audience, that presumably they must have been concerned that each viewer could find their seat in the cinema without falling up the stairs or forgetting to breathe. The clunky metaphors are so ham-fisted and cumbersome that they quickly become comical. Did the Cuarón’s really not think a film literate audience could handle the ‘letting go’ concept, which ubiquitously swamps nearly every line of over edited dialogue? The melodramatic Bullock fiercely struggles to bring every emotion she can out of the one-dimensional Stone, but the film ultimately falls victim to the underdeveloped quasi-meaningful and pseudo-intellectual screenplay, which was surely a last minute addition to the meticulously considered visual aspects.

    I would argue that Gravity is undoubtedly all style, and no substance. As Peter Bradshaw correctly identified, ‘Gravity needs to overwhelm you”, because without the stunningly orchestrated 3D and IMAX sound, all that Gravity has left to offer is a comically patronising and repetitive film forwarding tired religious postulations of sacrifice, forgiveness and rebirth. All this is enveloped in an ambiguous and under considered allegory about a dogged America’s place in the future of technological accomplishments, on the surface perhaps somewhat ironical given the technological achievement the film stands to be, but probably an attempted nod to the cultural anxieties surrounding the last film set in space to give us game changing visuals, 2001.

    Whilst the film surely hopes to be in 2001 or Citizen Kane territory, I will be very surprised if it isn’t soon placed more akin with Avatar. Showered with awards, and forgotten about as soon as possible so that we can move on, and watch something more worthwhile.

    • avatar

      Hear, hear Robert. The visual aspects are undoubtedly due the highest commendation, it may as well have been run without any soundtrack at all though – the storyline and dialogue were as trite as any standard Hollywood fodder has to offer. One has to wonder whether the story was written to fill the gaps between the technical showcasing.

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