“Whoever said the worst things happen at sea obviously never went into space. Cuarón, however, appears to consider them as one in the same.”
By Matt Allen
This year’s London BFI Film Festival, as ever, showcased some of the finest cinematic talent in the world. One film, however, stood out from the crowd and has been turning heads across the world ever since. There are already cautious whispers of the possibility that this one could become the first sci-fi (although personally I use that term loosely) film to win an Oscar for Best Picture. I am of course referring to Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.
During a maintenance mission to the Hubble telescope, two astronauts are detached from their shuttle after coming into contact with a swarm of debris that annihilates anything in its path. Oxygen is running low and time is running out as the killer shrapnel comes full orbit for another attack…
‘Life in space is impossible’, or at least so says the opening text and, since here at Movie Maniacs HQ we don’t claim to be an authority on the subject, we’re inclined to take their word for it. So right from the off we’re promised a desperate fight for survival in the unforgiving terrain of outer space. As the camera dreamily floats through space, we can be sure that this eerie serenity will not last. In fact, Cuarón barely gives us time to whack on the 3D glasses before he hits us with a rolling action sequence that is made all the more disorienting by the camera’s relentless mimicry of astronaut Ryan Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) movement as she ricochets off various apparatus and somersaults away into endless space. There has not been a film to date that has so convincingly represented the weightless environment of outer space. Combined with the most striking images of Earth you are ever likely to have seen, Cuarón brings us as close to outer space as we are ever likely to get. We don’t just empathise with our heroes but utterly sympathise with them – we’re right there by their side.
Whoever said the worst things happen at sea obviously never went into space. Cuarón, however, appears to consider them as one in the same. There are the obvious comparisons to be drawn i.e. the way an astronaut weightlessly ‘swims’ through the corridors of a space station or the simple fact that the lack of oxygen can often be an issue; but Cuarón seems to have developed the metaphor one step further and taken more than a pinch of inspiration form none other than Speilberg’s Jaws. The impending threat of being shredded alive is ever present even as our heroes drift through the quietude of space. But Gravity’s Bruce the Shark is not an unfeeling, single-minded eating machine: it’s much worse than that; it is a hail of debris circling the Earth at the speed of a bullet and it aint stopping for nothing. You can get a bigger boat if you want to but it’ll just tear that to pieces too.
But fear not, it’s not all mayhem and tension as George Clooney’s brings his trademark brand of levity to even the most harrowing of situations as astronaut Matt Kolawski. It might be a cliché but there really is no one else fit for the role of smooth talking space cowboy Kowalski.
Finally, as a spectacle this film is simply remarkable. It is difficult not to draw comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when talking about any space epic and Gravity is not exempt from this. The lingering shots of slow moving craft drifting across the black void will of course call to mind Kubrick’s classic and it would be futile to try and avoid drawing inspiration form such a seminal source. But Cuarón also steps out of the shadow of 2001 and shows that he has some stylistic prowess of his own. The use of the Earth as an ever-changing backdrop is ingenious.
A sublimely nerve-shattering plot, stunning cinematography and truly breathtaking visuals make this an unmissable cinematic experience – and I stress the word cinematic. For those who claim that, in this modern age of piracy and widescreen TVs, cinema is on borrowed time I can think of no better argument than Gravity. This immersive masterpiece is what cinema – and specifically 3D cinema – was made for and the effect just will not be the same on the smaller screen. Fortunately, with its relentless sense of peril and anxiety inducing set-pieces, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is an exceptional film. Just remember to breathe…