“Gravity” Breaks Ground with Dazzling 3D Spectacle

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Movie poster for “Gravity”

Jamie Ferguson

Movie poster for "Gravity"
Movie poster for “Gravity”

It is not often that a movie is truly groundbreaking, changing the way audiences see films and directors make them. From Jurassic Park to Life of Pi, the quality of CGI has improved drastically over the last decade, giving audiences a startlingly lifelike experience that is impossibly fake. 2009’s Avatar introduced a new kind of 3D experience, but despite its technical beauty, the film was criticized for lacking an engaging story. Since then, audiences have shown that the 3D cinema is losing luster, and has become more of a moneymaking scheme than a way to heighten one’s viewing experience. But with Gravity, Academy Award nominee Alfonso Cuaron (whose short but masterful directorial repertoire includes Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá Tambien, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) combines visual effects years ahead of their time and a truly gripping story that paves the way for one of the best cinematic experiences in decades.

Gravity’s premise is simple—the crew of the Explorer are tinkering on a broken American station. The opening shot lasts over 15 minutes, and shows three astronauts floating around their shuttle with Earth in the background. The crew float in and out of the frame, chatting idly and joking around with each other. Disaster strikes when debris from a Russian missile strike causes a chain reaction of collisions, causing the team to abort their mission. However, after their shuttle is hit, only medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and veteran astronaut Matt Kowlaski (George Clooney) survive the crash, and the two are left floating in space by themselves. Completely alone and tethered to each other, the two struggle to survive against depleting oxygen, circling debris, and the impending nothingness of outer space.

The cinematography of Gravity is genuinely unbelievable, never once appearing like CGI or a greenscreen. There are points in the film, particularly in the 15 minute opening shot, where it is easy to forget that Cuaron did not simply bring a camera up into space; it is genuinely hard to believe that the visuals were made by dozens of people on a computer.  Everything from Earth looming in the background to the incredibly intricate space shuttles looks impossibly real. And despite the emptiness of space, the film has an incredible depth that is only heightened when seen in 3D. Unlike Avatar, which was undoubtedly a landmark achievement in special effects, Gravity balances its visuals and its story, a feat few films can accomplish.

Bullock and Clooney give incredible performances, making their isolation and fear absolutely believable. Though Clooney provides a calm, charming supporting role (and being calm is infinitely important when disaster strikes), Gravity is truly Bullock’s film. The majority of the movie is solely Bullock, and she gives the best performance of her career as the strong but frantic Stone. Everything about her, from her facial expressions to her breathing, is so realistic that it is almost impossible to not cheer her on.

Gravity’s faults fall in its underwhelming screenplay. In the beginning of the movie, Stone tells Kowalski that her favorite part of space is the silence, but Gravity often gives the viewers dialogue when silence would have worked just as well. Stone is given an emotional, deeply personal storyline about her daughter, but those lengthy  moments of reflection are not nearly as powerful as the small, quiet moments where she does not say much at all. As emotional as these moments are, they are unnecessary in making Stone a sympathetic character. She is by herself millions of miles away from earth; that in itself is enough reason to feel bad for her (At one point, she whispers to herself, “Dad wanted a boy,” and that one line says more about her character than any sad, cheesy backstory).

Additionally, despite an opportunity for a strong, fearless heroine, there are moments in the film where it is up to Clooney’s character to be the hero, as if Stone is not strong enough to save herself. But for the most part, Bullock portrays a fierce, driven woman who carries the weight of the film on her shoulders (in a role that could have been played by a man).

Gravity is one of the few films in history that demands to be seen in theaters and in 3D. It truly is a visual and emotional experience, mirrored by the characters’ physical and spiritual journey throughout the film.  Bullock is known for her sweet, girl-next-door relatability, and Gravity takes her universal appeal to the next level. Her story is not relatable to only a female astronaut on her first mission who gets lost in space and has also lost a child– it is relatable to anyone who has ever felt lost, hopeless, strong, or alive.