There aren’t many films that leave you so overwhelmed that you forget to take your 3d glasses off for ten minutes afterwards, but unfortunately for the people I was with; this was one of them.
The plot of Gravity is less a story and more a giant obstacle course set in space, this is not to say that there is nothing to it, indeed the time often given to explain why things happened in a certain way is instead given entirely to exploring the humanity of the characters.
Sandra Bullock is Dr Ryan Stone, who after 6 months of specialised Nasa training is quite literally thrown into space alongside George Clooney’s veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski. Whilst attaching a new kind of scanning device onto the Hubble telescope the team are met with the nerve shredding cry of ‘abort mission’ and a desperate scramble to safety before being flung off into the void. After the initial crisis, everything that possibly could go wrong does and the thriller which ensues is a relentless depiction of human survival.
The effect of the pared down story means that each sequence is stretched out endlessly and some shots go on just that bit too long to make you feel uneasy. Sandra Bullock spinning in nothingness makes you begin to feel light headed and every jump to safety feels like a never ending expedition. Alfonso Cuaron’s image of space is beautifully created in this film and the imagery conjured goes go right back to the roots of cinema. Space being the operative word, the film focusses so much on the emptiness and unimaginable vastness of outer space, every object is made to look tiny against its backdrop and the word insignificant comes to mind. This is, if nothing else pure cinematic spectacle. It is a rare occasion where the 3D is not a gimmick, retrofitted onto the film, but something which actually serves to enhance the experience. Objects floating weightlessly in the space station fly at you as if coming out of the screen, not in a Disneyland style way, but as if you were there, floating alongside them. The same feeling applies when the characters are floating listlessly alongside Earth; it really does leave you breathless.
Inevitably the lack of other human characters, or indeed aliens means that the vast outer space becomes inner space, and the loss Ryan Stone has suffered comes to the forefront as her isolation in space is echoed in her state of mind and we slowly see her attempt to come to terms with her grief as she struggles to return to Earth.
It’s not the sci-fi film you expect, but Gravity is something special. Part space based thriller, part musings on overcoming grief, it is neither the deepest, most nuanced film of the year, nor is it the biggest action thriller, but this mesmerising depiction of a human struggle and it’s backdrop of breathtaking cinematic imagery may yet be up there with the best.