Mania Review: Gravity -

Mania Review

Mania Grade: A

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  • Starring: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney
  • Written by: Alfonso Cuaron and Jonas Cuaron
  • Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron
  • Studio: Warner Bros
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Gravity

One small step...

By Rob Vaux     October 04, 2013

© Warner Bros/Robert Trate

 Ever wondered just how wrong things can go in outer space? Gravity has an answer, and we all owe NASA a huge debt of thanks for limiting it to the realm of fiction for so long. It’s too horrific to ignore and too stark not to carry the sense that this could really happen.

Director Alfonso Cuaron doesn’t even have a real story here, just a concept to which he can attach an exercise in technique.  An incredible, flawless, irresistible, white-knuckle, pound-your-head-against-the-wall-like-a-gorilla-smashing- coconuts exercise in technique. In the opening shot (which lasts a good 20 minutes), we learn everything we need to know about the characters, the situation and the goal. The rest of the film just points us at the buzzsaw and hits “go.” A seemingly ordinary space shuttle mission to add new software to the Hubble telescope gets exceptionally hairy in a great big hurry, leaving two survivors to figure out what happens next. Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is the canny veteran with a chipper optimism that lets him see the circumstances clearly. His colleague Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a one-time specialist, prone to motion sickness and about as nervous as the rest of us would be in a total vacuum with no apparent way home.

Like all great suspense films, Gravity finds an impressive number of variations on the same basic theme. Cuaron emphasizes our vulnerability in this deceptively calm environment: how one little twitch or circuitry misfire can send us screaming into an endless black chasm. His camera constantly reminds us how tiny we are in the face of the cosmos, and how the vaunted intelligence that got us up there can only do so much against the indifferent forces surrounding us.

There’s a spiritual side to the tension, and some big questions are asked in surprisingly understated ways. Bullock, whose performance here I wouldn’t have thought possible before seeing it, serves as an incredible anchor. She has to hold almost every frame, and a sunny disposition can only take you so far when there’s nowhere to hide. Clooney coasts on his bottomless charm, but it’s pretty much The Sandy Show from beginning to end; the girl is more than up for the task.

Such subtleties, however, matter less than the incredible ways Cuaron finds to yank our pounding hearts out of our chests. The barest whiff of contrivance lurks around the various hoops Kowalski and Stone have to jump through, but the film varies each one so carefully that you never notice. The real brilliance comes from pure camera movements. They take the breath away: not just the steady shots that helped Cuaron earn his reputation, but from more “mundane” shots that move and pivot within the action itself. They disorient us, but not in an unpleasant way. There was no motion sickness or dizziness at our screening, which was in IMAX 3D. (And that really is the only way to properly watch this film.) Just a sense of what this environment would be like, augmented by the absolute silence with which the threats come barreling at them

There’s a lot of comparisons being made to 2001, and they’re actually fairly apt. Gravity lacks the head-trip profundity of Kubrick’s masterpiece, but it clearly draws inspiration from the mixture of wonderment and fear at the grandeur of outer space. Sure, it’s basically a lot of stimulus response with only the quietest shades of something more to keep it from complete sterility. Then again, Kubrick was always a bit sterile himself, and Gravity knows just how to expand upon his revered bag of tricks. It’s been a terrific year for science fiction movies. This one stands with the very best of them: borne from a keen understanding of cinema’s possibilities and the creativity to put it to good use.  Somewhere, Kubrick is smiling… as are Hitchcock, Welles and all those other masters whose ranks Cuaron is well on his way to joining.


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Dazzler 10/4/2013 3:33:44 AM

Not going to see it til I see some real reviews from people.  Clooney only makes crap these days.  Oscar bait movie I imagine.  Clooney's last "sci fi" movie was boring.

wish 10/4/2013 5:03:49 AM

Everything everyone is saying is 100% true and then some.  After 161 reviews it sits at 98% on rotten tomatoes.  Why would I bother adding to that, it's all been said.  The movie is a masterpiece.  It's this simple, if you want to see one of, if not THE most groundbreaking films ever made, go see Gravity.

Oh yeah, and don't fuck around, see it in Imax 3D.  Travel if you must.

MrEt 10/4/2013 5:24:15 AM

Still don't know if I can see it, if the space shuttle cant fly from the ISS to the hubble or vice versa how can 2 people in "jetpacks" The iss and hubble are in 2 different orbit heights and paths, lieraly there is not enough fuel in addition to the bullet hitting a bullet analogy.

To anyone who saw the movie did they explain this at all, or did they just trust in movie population ignorance.

Wiseguy 10/4/2013 5:28:01 AM

I'm tired of that gimmicky 3D fad and I-Max experience. I'm boycotting this movie til it's broadcast in black and white with no sound and I can watch it on an old tube tv


goirish83 10/4/2013 5:47:47 AM

Dazzler, Clooney makes some of the best movies made these days.  This movie has recieved nothing buzz huge positive buzz since the trailers came out.  If the man that made T2 loves it, then what's the issue here?  I know it's your opinion, but this movie looks amazing.

Dodgyb2001 10/4/2013 5:57:51 AM

It was amazing! Really incredible 3d. Go and see it. They took some liberties as MrET has mentioned, but overall it's worth it.

Redshirt1 10/4/2013 6:04:52 AM

Ok MrEt, I am no mathematician. However, The Hubble telescope is at an orbit of 353 miles above the earth and orbits the earth every 97 minutes. The ISS sits at an orbit of 261.6 miles above the earth and travels 171.33 MPH. The amount of fuel required in a jet pack is not the deciding factor here because an object in motion stays in motion till acted on by another object. There is no friction in space so once you fire your thrusters you are going to keep moving in the same direction at the same speed until you either A) use your thrusters to change course, or B) hit something.  This is an exercise in math and physics. By calculating the distance and orbital speed of both structures, and the maximum velocity a jet pack is capable of traveling at, and accounting for the increase in gravitational pull from going from a higher to lower orbit. You can find an intersection point at which time you have to point yourself in the right direction and hit your thrusters and hope to hell you've got the math right.  Would it be difficult? Hell yes! You would only get one shot to make it and if you missed your dead, but it's not impossible.  

VermithraxPejorative 10/4/2013 6:09:58 AM

MrEt, you make valid points. That is something I was wondering as well, since this is supposed to be a "realistic" Space Thriller. Also, a question I ask is this: Hubble moves at a different rate of orbital speed as well, compared to the ISS, along with your aforementioned orbital paths/distances. There would be absolutely NO WAY a stranded astronaut could "fly" from one to the other with jet packs. Or even if they were "flung" in that direction. Everything moves in orbit. Even "stationary" GEOsychronis SATs "move" in relation to their position over the Earth. The Earth rotates, so that means anything in orbit rotates with it.

Don't get me wrong, it looks incredible, but it's not as "realistic" as some make it to be if they have these stranded Astronauts go from the Shuttle/Hubble Docking Plan to the ISS after the disaster hits.

elrushbo 10/4/2013 6:12:10 AM

Oh you have GOT to be kidding! I sat through the trailer in the theater hoping an object would smack Sandra Bullock's character so I wouldn't have to listen to her constant bellowing! That was just a couple minutes and I was thoroughly annoyed! You people really get it wrong sometimes.

monkeyfoot 10/4/2013 7:14:30 AM

Not reading review (as my usual) until I see it this weekend.

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