Note: “Gravity” is my first 5/5 of 2013. See the film in 3D IMAX. As most of the movie is CGI and computer animation, the majority of the 3D environment was created in the computer. Think of it like a Pixar film where the 3D environment is created digitally and then, in this case, the human performances are integrated into the shots. As for the IMAX, Cuarón did NOT shoot the film in the IMAX format but it must be seen in that format for the sound and the image. I’ve seen the film three times and it just gets better and better each time.
“Gravity” is the game-changing film of our generation and a cinematic masterpiece that elevates the art form for filmmaking. Looking back over the history of cinema, you can pinpoint the game-changing filmmakers and films that revolutionized cinema on a technical level. You can look at Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” for its advancement in deep focus. You can look at Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” for creating arguably the greatest shot in the history of cinema, the dolly zoom. You can look at Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” for an advancement in almost all things cinema; including one of the greatest film scores of all time. You can look at George Lucas’ “Star Wars” as one of the biggest advancements in special effects for its time. I would argue that even James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was at the forefront of changing the future of cinema as we know it. If you go back and watch “T2” today, the sequence where the T-1000 rises from the black/white tile floor to become the cop looks like it could have been made in 2013.
Now, Alfsono Cuarón’s “Gravity” can be added to that list of milestone films that advance the art form. As a film fan, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing something new and fresh, especially if you know the director took risks to blow our mind. After being blown away by Alfsono Cuarón’s “Children of Men” back in 2006, I knew this filmmaker was special. The long shots he pulled off, specifically the car action set-piece with Julianne Moore and the war sequence, were masterful. The idea of creating what appeared to be one fluid shot to keep the action realistic was incredible. Sure, long, continuous shots had been done before, with my favorite being Hitchcock’s “Rope,” but Cuarón’s long shots felt different. There was more going on in the shot. He would have action, gun-fire, cars crashing, etc. There were clearly digital elements involved and I always wondered how he did it. Heck, Cuarón even created the best Harry Potter film, 2004’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
Pay very close attention to the first seventeen minutes of “Gravity.” There is not a single visible cut in that sequence, even if there are a ton of edits happening while he is integrating the human performances into the CGI world. The shot opens on the earth and we eventually get to a close-up of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Clearly, there has to be some kind of edit to integrate them so seamlessly into that shot. Bullock was either shooting her sequence on a stage, in the “Light Box,” on wires, etc. The crazy part is that Bullock’s performance has a lot to do with breathing. Since she mainly had to create that breathing through acting, she has to get herself to hyperventilate by just standing or sitting there as the environment is flipping around her. Cuarón would have to give her breathing cues as to where her breath was in the previous shot. Bullock would then have to get back to that exact hyperventilating sound to keep up the continuity. Insane!
Fast-forward to October 4th, 2013, the day in which “Gravity” will be released. The key element to note here is that the film is a technical and emotional achievement. Everyone flipped out over “Avatar” because of its incredible visuals and 3D, sure, but those visuals essentially hypnotized you into thinking you were watching a great film when, in reality, you were watching nothing more than “Pocahontas” and “Ferngully” in 3D with a little “Dances with Wolves” sprinkled in. “Gravity” fills in that space where it blows your mind visually but also emotionally. I cared so much for Bullock’s character and found myself in tears at least four times throughout the film. The other times, I was so geeked out by the visuals that I was crying my usual nerd tears.
When you watch the film closely, you’ll notice that Cuarón essentially wants you to know there is a camera there. Similarly, in “Children of Men” during the famous long continuous shot in the war sequence, blood splatters on the screen. While that might have been an accident during filming, he still kept the shot in the film. In “Gravity,” there are a few times where liquid hits the screen. Cuarón explained that he wanted the camera to be the eye line of the audience. We are essentially floating around in space with Bullock and Clooney.
The key to this film, besides the incredible visuals, 3D, score, direction and cinematography, is Sandra Bullock’s performance. Bullock has to carry the film and she does an incredible job at doing so. As clichéd as it sounds, while the film is 3D, her performance is 3D as well. You really care for her and want her to get home safe. Keep in mind, the trailers you’ve seen for the film where she’s floating away after being detached only capture the beginning seventeen minutes of the film. After that shot, you still have roughly 75 minutes more of the film to go. The physicality of her performance is beyond words. She would find herself having to hyperventilate when she wasn’t really flipping. She would have to move her body at 30% in order to create the slow-motion look of what it looked like to be in space. I really think that you need to know how this movie was filmed in order to get a full grasp of how brilliant Bullock’s performance is. On the surface, Bullock is already incredible but when you get a better understanding of how it was done, it reaches a masterful level for the acting craft.
Without giving away spoilers, the basic plot line is what you see in the trailers. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s characters are NASA astronauts working a mission in space to fix the Hubble telescope. An accident occurs where debris destroys their space shuttle and they are left adrift and must survive. I will say that the film’s main focus is Sandra Bullock, but the subtlety of Clooney’s performance was a perfect tone for the movie. He’s one of the few actors where he’s almost so famous that it’s hard not to think of Clooney. However, Clooney is exactly what I wanted to think about while watching this film. The charm and witty element added a great humor to the film.
“Gravity” contains the best 3D I have ever seen on the big screen. Before “Gravity,” I would have given that award to Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which was the first film I had ever seen where a director used 3D as a storytelling element. Like “Gravity,” I feel that the 3D actually gave depth to the characters. The IMAX element is interesting because even though the film may not take up the full IMAX screen, you are still getting a very large digital image and the sound is incredible. After the film ended, I honestly felt like I had been to space. The 3D also really works during the POV shots from Bullock’s helmet.
It’s hard to even describe in words how masterful the film really is. The rare element of getting to see a film that technically and emotionally blows your mind is a real treat. Cuarón is at the top of his game and has positioned himself as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I know that a lot of this review has been hyperbole, but I do feel “Gravity” is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.
Simply put, the film is intense, scary, mind-blowing, visually stunning, masterfully acted, phenomenally directed and contains one of my favorite scores of 2013. Composer Steven Pricev created such a unique, memorable and scary piece of music. The main theme, which sounds like two notes, is so haunting and runs parallel to the picture’s intensity level. There is a sequence of music called “Don’t Let Go” which is absolutely beautiful. I know a score is a masterpiece when I can listen to it after seeing the film and relive the movie in my mind.
If you’re the type of person who only goes to the movies one time per year, make “Gravity” your choice. It’s only 90 minutes long and is a true cinematic experience. Alfonso Cuarón has elevated the art form and essentially told all filmmakers to step up their game.Posted on