Written by Alfonso and Juan Cuarón
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Dr. Ryan Stone is on her first space mission, helping to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope’s capabilities. Matt Kowalski is on his final mission, commanding this one. Everything is going smoothly until a defunct Russian satellite is shot down, creating an ever-building cloud of fast-moving debris, more and more satellites getting caught up in the wave. Stone and Kowalski are sent hurtling through space and have to master control of their will and stifle panic in an attempt to survive. With the clock counting down until the debris makes its next pass, the two astronauts must make their way to the International Space Station to have even a chance of making it back to earth.
I am a big fan of filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. I think he made the best Harry Potter movie and he directed my favorite film of 2000 – 2009 decade, Children of Men. His most recent feature, Roma one of my favorites of 2018 and will be reappearing my 2010 – 2019 decade lists. What impresses me so much about the work of Cuarón is how he blends cinematography and character perspective so well. Cuarón’s camera is a dynamic actor, following the gaze of the protagonist or pulling away from them and exploring the environment to give the audience further information about the situation. Roma was probably his most objective camerawork but still showed all the hallmarks of a creator who is genuinely interested in the power of how images are framed and presented.
Gravity is arguably Cuarón’s most commercial work, even more so than Prisoner of Azkaban, in my opinion. I find his work on Harry Potter to have a grittiness and rough around the edges feel. In Gravity, we have two of the biggest names in contemporary American film (Bullock and Clooney) and a story that is made up of mostly spectacle with some character development. The development we have is less about building backstory than it is about teaching us what Stone can do when put in some of the direst circumstances.
What Cuarón manages to do with Gravity is to showcase how computer generated effects don’t have to be ugly and can be seamlessly mixed with live action performances. There’s some clever camera trickery to help meld Bullock and Clooney into these artificial environments. You can’t help but think about CG heavy movies like the Transformers series where these special effects do not create a sense of immersion, but the viewer feels disassociated from the action. Cuarón paints with his special effects rather than using them like a sledgehammer, and that elegant touch resonates through the film.
Gravity ends up being more of a cinematic experience than a full film, in my opinion. The bare-bones story and emphasis on spectacle reminded me of the dark rides I went on at Universal Studios. Instead of a paper-thin conceit as an excuse to showcase the technology, Cuarón gives us a compelling story about people tackling a series of survival challenges. Gravity ends up near the bottom of my Cuarón list, nothing can top Children of Men, but a weaker Cuarón film is still something amazing. One of my strongest feelings after seeing Gravity was how I regret not getting the chance to see this on an IMAX screen; I can only imagine how spectacular it would have been.