I was never really a ‘space child’ myself. While my friends watched the Star Wars prequels and played with Lego rockets, I was more likely to be found emulating the treasure hunter than the astronaut (probably why I find myself enrolled in an Archaeology degree!) Nevertheless, unless I am on a plane taking me to new and exciting parts of the world, my preferred realm is good solid earth. I bring this up because this season’s space thriller Gravity has definitely not changed my mind in endearing me to a career above the clouds with the rocket men.
My initial impression of Gravity was one of quiet interest. I was wandering though the city centre when I was struck by the itch that only a trip to the pictures can satisfy. Having seen a trailer for Gravity during another screening, I was drawn to the punchy name alone. After viewing, however, I can safely say that I was not disappointed- it was well worth the ticket price.
The story is the delicious cream that holds this particular dish together but to give anything away would be cruelty beyond forgiveness, so I shall only impart to you the basic premise. Attention mostly focusses on the protagonist Dr. Ryan Stone, mission specialist, first time space walker and member of the crew of the Space Shuttle Explorer which is running a regular maintenance mission to the Hubble telescope. It is during said mission that ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events: Space Edition’ begins, causing the crew to struggle against the sheer inhospitality and crushing emptiness of space itself in a bid to return to terra firma. When an incident involving the destruction of a satellite sparks off a catastrophic chain reaction, the deadly cloud of debris this creates acts as a fantastic source of tension and impetus for the narrative, becoming the major driving force behind the more heart pounding scenes and bringing the quiet suspense of the calm silence of the black void into stark contrast. The whole film experience is truly an emotional roller-coaster, lifting you up only to pull you screaming back down again into the pit of despair along with the principal leads.
I didn’t know until after I saw Gravity that the director, Alfonso Cuarón, was the same person who directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Prisoner of Azkaban is by far my favourite Harry Potter film of the series, so it’s no wonder I was drawn into Gravity. The cinematography and pacing of the film is spot on. The total running time does not exceed 91 minutes, which feels just about right for a film of this style and genre. Cuarón does a brilliant job of capturing the physics and problems of zero gravity conditions, no mean feat for a film shot within the constraints of our planet. Sandra Bullock, who plays Dr. Stone, does a splendid job of reacting to events that are, for the most part, computer generated, ensuring that there are very few parts of the film where the visual effects break into your absorption.
The film does a fantastic job of building suspense and atmosphere (ironically), with some moments pulling me forward in my seat until I am just millimetres from the edge. When characters are alone, they really do feel alone, and you can almost sense their desperation and, at times, hopelessness. The characters are likeable and, above all, human, so that you really feel for them in their plight and root for their safety. There are no brave heroes or dastardly villains, no complex motivations or extensive character back story, just regular men and women desperate to stay alive in the cold void of the cosmos.
We can all agree that no film is completely perfect, but Gravity is pretty close. The only major hook-up I have with the story aspect relates to the cascade of destroyed satellites, a scenario I have discovered is called Kessler Syndrome. According to The Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Kessler Syndrome in reality would ‘make it impossible to launch space exploration missions or satellites for many decades’. If this is such a major event, potentially grinding modern day life back on earth to a halt, it strikes me as odd that this aspect of the story is glossed over by our main characters. However, this was only an issue I had retrospectively. There were a few moments when I was pulled out of the immersion by a few scenes that seemed to have been filmed to take advantage of 3D technology, which I felt didn’t quite gel in a two dimensional plane, but this is just nit-picking as they were few and far between. There were also a couple of artistic shots that I thought were a bit silly, including one representing a child in the womb, but then again I am no artist and are therefore unqualified to comment on the topic. Overall, there is very little wrong with the film, and at no point did I ever feel uninvested or, heaven forbid, bored.
If it feels like I am struggling to find much to criticise about Gravity and if it seems I am finding it just as difficult to add a touch of humour to this review, it is simply because Gravity has not only left me speechless but also emotionally drained. I genuinely did not expect such a fantastic experience to meet me when I entered the screening. The heart wrenching gut punches really did shake me up emotionally and I left the cinema with quivering hands and heartbeat to match. I am very comfortable in awarding Gravity a prestigious 9 out of 10, and I thoroughly recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to make haste to the cinema and see for yourself the dark abyss of space.