Spectacular visuals and sound design make Gravity an initially compelling experience, but its ultimately contrived emotional centre leaves a vacuum in the after glow.
The concept (this is, despite the mass outcry of ‘art house blockbuster’ from the majority of press coverage, a concept-movie) of Gravity is universally appealing; very few can resist the allure of the space-disaster picture and Gravity lurches from one disaster to another in terms of its narrative.
The ongoing jeopardy of a circulating cloud of orbital debris maintains the growing tension as Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) runs out of survival opportunities. The danger and sense of complete isolation (and the low chances of survival being alone in space dictates) is prevalent throughout the film, thanks to an enthralling early sequence in which Dr. Stone is separated from fellow-astronaut Matt Kowalski. George Clooney’s lackadaisical yet pragmatic scientist is the clear performance highlight.
It’s effectively a trio of (admittedly) utterly amazing effects set-pieces which are definitely worth the ticket stub in their own right. As you would expect they all involve cat and mouse struggles against the deadly debris cloud. Enhancement (as is rare) by the inclusion of stereoscopic visuals (aka 3D), means Gravity feels less akin to a motion picture, and more like a theme park ride. On IMAX, Gravity – already a real pulse-raiser – would no doubt be breathtaking.
The problem with director Alfonso Cuarón’s film is not the visuals, not the atmospheric and authentic sound design, nor the editing pace and geographical journey. It’s the refusal to admit that this expertly produced odyssey was not fascination enough for what it is, at surface value alone. Superficially, it is an overwhelming tribute to the human spirit, without ever saying so, and this is a powerful enough message.
Instead Bullock’s attempt to return to Earth is back-dropped by an utterly melancholic subplot involving a daughter lost to a freak accident. If this concept wasn’t completely predictable it is also undersold by requiring Bullock to sell the emotional heft of Stone’s grief in moments when the conditions are so cold her face is nothing more than a rigid block of ice. Her efforts are admirable, but things border very close to a world of pastiche; a lone 3D tear is not nearly poignant, sincere or symbolic enough to carry what is, in all honesty, a really lazy stab at adding some sentimentality to proceedings.
Gravity didn’t need the faux sentiment; it was pure O2 in concept to begin with and would have remained so without this saccharine CO2 injection. The good news though, is that this bitter aftertaste cannot at all ruin the main feature; while wrapped up in the excitement, desperation and tension of the adventure the sub-plot is pushed back to mere incidentals.
Gravity is a rollercoaster which takes place in outer-space and everywhere in between and it will leave you gulping for air many times over right from the start, when it pulls you toward it with all the strength of planet Earth, the best supporting actress on the screen, herself.