So there are several things you need to know about our experience of Gravity, the new sci-fi film in theaters this week. The first is that I am late with the review because my local theater canceled the Friday morning showing of the 2-D version of the movie. Just, boom, canceled. The next showing was not going to be for like six hours. That would have cost me a fortune since I would have had to pay the premium evening/weekend ticket price. That would have added five bucks for me and five for my date. Plus, I would have then had to feed my date both lunch and dinner, adding probably fifty or sixty bucks. That's like an additional seventy dollars added to the cost of the this review, and I would have had to figure out what to talk about all that time, so I just took my date home and told her we'd try again on Monday.
The second thing you need to know is that I don't go to 3-D showings of movies. It's a cute technology, but of the movies I've seen in 3-D (even the much-heralded Avatar) I've never found it worth the extra money (yeah, yeah, I know, I'm a cheap SOB). Gravity might just be a movie that will chase the moths out of the change purse and get me to cough up the money to see it in 3-D. I haven't yet, but I just might.
The third thing you need to know about this movie is that in most respects, it lives up to the media hype about how good it is. They do stuff on the screen that is simply mind-boggling. I don't have the vaguest idea how they (they being director Alfonso Cuaron and his crew) did this stuff. There are several scenes that I found particularly mesmerizing. The first is a scene of Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone character spinning off into space in her space suit. The camera tracks her, getting closer and closer, closing in to a very tight shot of the faceplate of her helmet, and then moves inside the helmet to a point of view shot so that you can see the all the data being displayed on her faceplate and can see the earth alternating with the black of space, and then just as seamlessly, the camera moves back out and we are once again watching Sandra Bullock spinning in space. The second scene occurs later as Stone is sitting in an escape pod contemplating what will happen to her. She begins to cry, and the tears well up and float off into the air. It is so well done, and by this time you are so used to the peculiarities of life in space that it's not just a "special effect," it is defiantly human act, a moment of intimacy that claims space and this story for humanity.
There is not much of a story here -- Sandra Bullock goes into space, encounters a disaster, and faces death. And while you have heard me rant about why directors should cut back a bit on their CGI budgets and hire decent writers, Gravity is a case where the bare-bones writing was sufficient to provide a vehicle for a spectacular visual display.
There is only one character of any substance in the film -- Bullock's Ryan Stone, and Stone is not a deep character. She is desperate and scared to death throughout the film. I doubt there is enough of a character here to garner any kind of interest from Oscar, but Sandra Bullock shows why she is an Oscar-winning actress as she makes Ryan Stone's fear completely accessible.
Breath-taking visuals, a good enough story, and Sandra Bullock make this a great movie to see in the theater, and perhaps even a good 3-D movie.
A few months ago, Bernie asked me if I would ever consider joining a space expedition to Mars -- we'd read about the one-way colonization project -- and I immediately said yes, it's the kind of thing that would have appealed to me greatly in my (much) younger years. He went on to tell me I was nuts, so I made a roast chicken dinner so tasty that he had to buy a new belt and new pants. I know how to exact revenge over disagreements.
However, he was right, sorry about the pants, dear. But it wasn't any of his objections that changed my mind. I was convinced of my potential insanity by Gravity.
You know the scenario from the movie's trailers: space walk gone very, very bad, now what the hell can the astronauts do except die? Well, there are a lot of things to die from in space -- all of us who ever watched a sci-fi film know that. The difference in Gravity is that this movie grabs you by the scruff of the neck and brings you up close and personal with the many faces of Death in space, in detail and tension.
I don't see movies in 3D since I tried to watch Up in 3D and narrowly missed puking on the lovely little nuclear family in front of us. I won't see Gravity in 3D because I think I would fall out of my seat and roll down the stairs in the theater (no doubt puking all the way.) Even without 3D, I felt the disorientation of weightlessness, the helplessness of unhindered inertia, the frustration of seeing things sailing serenely along out of reach.
I gasped for air as the oxygen ran out, I felt my heart race in fear, my hands sweated and shook as the seconds counted down. Great effects, stunning photography, outstanding acting. When we left the theater, I looked around at the dusty Valley air, the orchards, the canals ... and I was just about to start chanting like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: There's no place like home, there's no place like home ...
Somebody else can go to Mars. I'm not even going to sit on the porch swing any more.
See this movie, and see it in 3D if you can.