Gravity (2013)

People who follow my reviews regularly will know by now that I have a particular bugbear – namely the incessant overuse of 3D in contemporary Hollywood blockbusters. It seems that every big budget release – particularly family friendly animated features which appear to make up half of the current output of major studios, and superhero movies which make up the other half – has to have the extra dimensional option, with regular common-or-garden 2D now offered almost as a second thought. Occasionally though, a film appears for which the use of 3D seems almost obligatory. Films like Gravity.

Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Lieutenant Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are on a routine space walk to service the Hubble Telescope, when they are caught in the path of a debris storm from an abandoned satellite destroyed by a Russian missile strike. Cast adrift in space with only each-other to rely on it is a race against time for Stone and Kowalski to reach the relative safety of the International Space Station, before being caught in a further mass of debris which could scupper any hope they have of ever returning to Earth.

From the opening scenes of director Alfonso Cuarón’s high octane thriller, which give a panoramic view of earth seen with a birds-eye view from the darkened backdrop of infinite space, this film is massive in every sense – a factor for which regular cinema wouldn’t do justice to. Indeed, for once the 3D format seems to fulfil the reason one often feels filmmakers are aiming for, but seldom achieve, through using it. It draws the viewer into the film (and space) to the extent you feel you are there with Ryan, as she, frequently, faces imminent death.

Mind you there could be worse worse things, it has to be said, than to be cast adrift in space with only Bullock (and Clooney) for company. Though Clooney – and the occasional lifeless bodies of various astronauts caught up in the disaster which engulfs Ryan and Matt (along with Ed Harris whose disembodied voice represents Mission Control back on Earth) – give stolid support as you’d expect, this is really a one woman show. It’s to be admired that for such a powerful film, breaking new ground in fields like visual effects – creating something unlike anything you will ever have seen before – the filmmakers chose to make the main character a woman, instead of one of the usual males who dominate stories set in space. The only area where the film does succumb to stereotypes is when it makes the Russians the perpetrators of the disaster which causes damage to the spaceship belonging to their old adversaries, the Americans.

The film however is not without its flaws. Admittedly superficial, it has been pointed out by experts that Bullock’s hair is the one thing which seems to defy gravity. Though she sports a close gamine crop throughout, it still should have appeared a little less rigid – a small point, you might say, to be concerned about when hurtling through space. Indeed it doesn’t really warrant mention except for the fact that, once noticed, it grates on the nerves, detracting from the production’s overall visual impact. With the film’s attention to detail generally, this seems an area of realism, however small, that should clearly have been picked up on.

Gravity is marvellous, until the end. Few films seem to manage to sustain tension, excitement or believability consistently throughout their entire duration and, unfortunately, this is where Gravity slips up. For a film which has such a spectacular opening and ensuing first half, the second part is somewhat disappointing. It’s hard to go into the film’s failings without giving away the conclusion and what happens to Bullock’s character. Suffice to say the ending stretches credibility (if indeed this kind of film’s storyline has credibility), whilst the blatantly pseudo-religious / evolutionary overtones will stand out a mile to even the most secular of viewers – both of which points stop me short of giving the film the five star grading it would otherwise deserve.

None of this however can take away from the sheer magnitude and scope of a film which is quite literally out of this world, and will make viewers want to sign up for the first commercial space flights, despite the obvious and inescapable dangers of such a trip.

Cleaver Patterson

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