I am no lover of sci fi but due to the buzz about Gravitydecided to try my luck. Also Cuarón is both a versatile and first rate director and producer of many films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Rudo y Cursi, The Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth(a bit dodgy for me) and, of course, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
The good news is that sci fi it is not, rather a roller coaster of a nail-biting thriller that just happens to take place in space, and which kept me on the edge of my seat with anticipation. Space normally signifies a leap into the fantasy of the great unknown – think 2001, Star Warsand so on – but Gravitydefies expectations due to its credibility.
Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), mission chief Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) and Sharma (Shariff) are sent into space to make adjustments to the Hubble Telescope. Stone is grappling, all fingers and thumbs, to make the repairs, Sharma is fiddling about elsewhere and Kowalski is concentrating on breaking the moonwalking record set by a Russian astronaut, so is larking about, telling mission control (and his fellow crew members) stories they have all heard countless times before, veteran of space that he is. Suddenly the mission has to be aborted due to a Russian satellite explosion that has caused debris to hurtle towards them at an alarming rate.
Within seconds, the surreal scenes of what looks like space-suited babies attached to the mother ship by umbilical chords are a thing of the past; chaos descends with the huge shards of metal that destroys their ship and leaves our heroes somersaulting in the great void of outer space with the luminous earth as a fantastical backdrop. All contact is lost with mission control and they are truly on their own. This is not an improbable scenario either: our very own astronaut Mike Foale – who has the record for the longest time spent in outer space, eat your heart out Kowalski – was on a similar mission to repair Mir. Likewise space debris is a recorded – and feared – phenomenon.
It’s hard to believe that a film where Sandra Bullock’s face occupies centre screen for the majority of its duration can be so riveting. I say this, because I am no great fan of hers – and in fact she was not the first choice for the part, Natalie Portman and Angelina Jolie both turned it down. She spent 6 months preparing for the role with Cuarón, mapping every move, imbibing the thematic core of the film, the possibility of rebirth as a result of adversity, and concentrating on the breathing, ‘and how that breath was going to dictate her emotions…that breath that is connected with stress in some instances, but also the breath that is dictated by lack of oxygen.’
There is even character development: we learn that Stone is driven by the great hole in her life due to the death of her 4 year-old daughter (I know that feeling); though how she comes to be on such a mission with only 6 months NASA training is something of an enigma, as is her ability to read Cyrillic and Chinese space manuals. Some critic snidely remarked that this is in order to give the film a truly international appeal: I can vouch for this having seen it in a Chinese-speaking cinema, where the accidental listening-in to a Chinese family, as well as the manual scene, needed no subtitles and caused much amusement.
Gravitytook four years in development before the technology for the special effects was good enough to achieveCuarón’s vision; cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and special effects maestro Tim Webber should take equal credits. The shimmering, satellite-style views of earth are in stark contrast to the mysterious universe; the visuals of the astronauts against this backdrop are breath-taking, as are the more minute attentions to detail, for instance the gravity-defying tears that Stone sheds form perfect droplets that bounce off her face around the capsule. I came prepared to be disappointed with this movie, instead I was blown away by the acting, the cinematography, the special effects and the suspense. Sadly I did not see it in 3-D, but I hear this is highly recommended.