Writers: Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron
Stars: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
A view of Earth from space; all is quiet. In the distance a small white speck appears. As it slowly grows in view, background chatter is heard behind you. As the chatter gets louder the speck becomes a shuttle in orbit. The shuttle has its remote manipulator system arm (canadarm) extended and attached to the Hubble Telescope. One astronaut is tethered to the shuttle, a second to the canadarm, and a third on a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) circling the shuttle.
Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), the astronaut tethered to the canadarm, is on her first mission and is performing a system upgrade and maintenance on the Hubble. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), the astronaut on the MMU, is the experienced mission commander on his last mission. The third astronaut is performing his own duties. All three continually report to Houston (Ed Harris).
Houston then reports the Russians have destroyed one of their own satellites, but at present the resultant debris poses no threat. Later Houston reports the situation has deteriorated. The debris has caused a chain reaction resulting in additional satellites being destroyed causing more debris heading to their location. Orders are given to abort the mission and all astronauts to return to the shuttle.
Disaster. The shuttle is hit by the debris and spins out of control. The canadarm breaks away from the shuttle taking Stone with it. She frees herself but spins away in a panic eventually loosing radio communication with Kowalski. Stone eventually regains control of her motion and stabilizes her position. She is alone.
Though 2001 is mentioned most in discussions about Gravity due to the realism of the science and environment, Gravity is most reminiscent to Alien. Both films have female leads that must rise to the occasion with no possibility of aid, and who must escape a monster–in the case of Gravity, the orbiting debris field. Alien‘s tag line, “In space no one can hear you scream,” was never more apparent when the debris is silently decimating the International Space Station.
The story is simple: stay alive before you run out of oxygen, power, or fuel; and don’t let the debris get you.
Character development is sparse. Though having the most dialogue in the film, we know nothing about Kowalski and he remains the same person from beginning to end. All his stories about his past are cut short before anything insightful is revealed by Houston because he has heard them before. The one new story he tells is cut short by the aborted mission and the incoming debris. As for Stone, she is damaged. The loss of her daughter by a stupid accident has wounded her soul. She has no one to go back to and has nothing but her work.
Both roles are played to perfection. Though not given much to work with, Clooney fills his role with personality and little details. From his tone of voice you know Kowalski is experienced and confident. In a panic situation he remains in command. Alone with Stone floating in space he gets to know her to see what makes her tick; what she has to live for. And when he realizes she has nothing to live for he adjusts his arm mirror to an angle where he can keep an eye on her. Bullock is given more to work with. Ultimately, this is Stone’s story. She must find a reason to live and choose to fight for it. Bullock’s performance runs the gamut of emotions, and she carries them well.
The look and feel of the film is incredible. It is completely immersive. It is probably the closest thing to being in space the average person can experience.
The scene of Stone tumbling through space is harrowing. Tension starts high when she detaches from the canadarm and only grows from there. We are brought into her panic first through the loss of communication with Kowalski, and then in actuality as the camera merges into her point-of-view and we tumble head-over-heels with her.
The use of music and sound editing add to the claustrophobia and danger of the setting. The visual effects are outstanding: from tear drops floating away in spheres from the eyes, to how a fire looks in zero gravity, to the actors floating.
Alfonso Cuaron, the director, has crafted a masterful film that stripped a story to the bare essentials, and at the same time reminded Hollywood how to make a great film in under two hours–an ability that has abandoned many directors. But even though Gravity is a tight ninety minutes, if only it ended one minute sooner a great film would have been a perfect.
Grade = A-