Gravity is every bit as good as you’ve heard. Alfonso Cuaron has created a modern masterpiece that is simultaneously subtle, unique, powerful, and breathtakingly beautiful. Read on to see why this film is my favorite of the year so far and may stand as a major milestone in filmmaking history.
The Good: Breathtakingly beautiful, expertly paced, intense, emotional, meaningful, great acting, unique from anything you’ve seen, 3D is a true necessity and used perfectly, brilliant sound design
The Bad: It might be a few years before we see something like this again.
Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film, Gravity, is a masterpiece and easily the greatest movie I’ve seen this year so far. It turns a simple idea into something so much more than the sum of its parts, and does so with style, heart, and panache. More than that though, it’s the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that I feel pushes moviemaking in a new and exciting direction, branching off from what’s come in the past and giving a glimpse of what movies may be in the future. Gravity has something for everyone, and is an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
At its core, Gravity is a disaster movie set completely in the zero gravity of space. An astronaut and a medical engineer struggle to survive after their shuttle is rendered useless and torn apart. On a deeper level though, Gravity is all about the miracle of life, the contrast between the cold, harsh reality of space and the vibrancy of life on earth, and what inside us all drives us to survive.
I don’t think anyone could question the exquisite beauty of this film. Every shot appears painstakingly chosen to convey the exact feel of each moment of the story. While watching, viewers don’t just see, but feel the vastness of space, the disorientation of the characters, the dangers coming at them. Every shot is brilliantly constructed, and nearly every frame of this movie could stand alone as its own work of art. The zero gravity setting allows for a great deal of creativity and inventiveness in shot design, and Gravity uses this to become something unlike anything audiences have ever seen. Perhaps even more importantly though, every shot in Gravity flows smoothly into the next. Nothing is ever jarring or out of place, and the editing work is superb. Gravity is as much about the feel as it is about what’s actually happening, and the visuals drive home the emotions and messages of this piece in a way audiences won’t soon forget.
The 3D in this movie deserves its own paragraph. While other movies have come close, Gravity is the first film I’ve seen that I would say absolutely must be seen in 3D. The emptiness of space and feeling of loneliness simply couldn’t be accomplished in the same way without it, and this is a necessity to the film’s message as it contrasts these with the beauty and liveliness of Earth. The 3D never feels gimmicky or tacked on, and it is used subtly and effectively to add to every shot. This all makes the experience feel much more visceral and real. The visuals themselves engage the audience.
Deceptively simple, Gravity’s story is all about survival. The dialogue is carefully crafted to get the audience quickly attached to the characters, and as things begin to grow dire, this connection provides plenty of emotional payoff. There are an abundance of visual metaphors and philosophical questions, but they are so subtly done that viewers can take as much or as little as they want from the film and still enjoy it. Comedy hasn’t been forgotten and works well to counterpoint the much of the film’s intensity, the combination creating a steady build that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats and constantly cheering for the heroes. Like every part of this movie, the script works perfectly towards Gravity’s goals.
The Direction & Acting
Cuaron directs this movie with a sure hand and a keen eye. The pacing is spot-on, and Cuaron appears to have a natural instinct for when to back off and give the audience a breather and when to push the intensity to new heights. There is no fluff here. Nothing unnecessary. Just pure, powerful storytelling with an artistic flare that is all too often lacking in modern cinema. Equally important, Cuaron has managed to pull the best performances I’ve seen in a long time out of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. They each have charisma and personality to spare, and they each draw the audience’s empathy in different ways. They are always believable, and Bullock especially displays a wide array of emotions.
But I have to emphasize the subtlety and confidence behind Gravity. In many ways, it’s as if Cuaron stepped into cinema’s future and came back certain of how it should look. Gravity never stumbles, and its messages are well set up to allow audiences to think on their own while being prevalent enough not to be lost. The entire movie feels made by a master. I came out of Gravity feeling like I had truly seen the next step in filmmaking.
Surround sound has been around for a while, and we’ve all been to movies where you hear explosions behind you, or people yelling off in the distance. What sets Gravity apart is its use of silence juxtaposed with elements of surround sound to create a sense of space and distance. I believe Gravity would be almost as fascinating with your eyes closed as it is with your eyes open. The scenes put you right in the middle of them and you have a sense of what’s going on around you that just doesn’t exist in most movies. Combined with the exceptional cinematography, the sound design helps make Gravity more of an experience than a movie.
I was really intrigued by what Cauron did with this film on screen and during production. Like Avatar, this one will have a big influence on films of the future. Also, it is actually worth seeing in 3D - and that's saying something.
Truly I have to mention something about the sound design. Since I'm deaf in one ear it's not something I pay a whole lot of attention too. However, this was one of the first films I've seen that felt as though the sound design played a key role in the storytelling of the film. It was so well done, I applaud the sound team behind it.
On the whole it's a great film that balances a personal story/journey with enough action to keep you engaged. I can't wait to see it again and be able to own it on bl-ray.