Gravity’s opening crawl is enough to tighten every sphincter in the audience, and for the next 90 minutes, there will be no relief.
The movie follows mission specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) through a disastrous spacewalk. While she’s servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, Russia shoots down one of its inactive satellites and hurls a shower of debris toward her at a few hundred miles per hour. After a scene of complete chaos when it hits, Stone is sent careening into space.
Gravity is equal parts breathtaking and terrifying. The movie does a great job of stressing both the horrible fate its characters face and their difficulty avoiding it. With no matter to push off of, every thrust Stone gets could be her last, sending her endlessly in that direction to asphyxiate thousands of kilometers away from the nearest living thing.
The film is beautiful to behold, though most of it is green screen. An $80 million budget isn’t enough to bring a camera into space, and for a large majority of the movie, Bullock’s face is the only real thing on the screen.
CGI-based films are normally a turnoff, but Gravity does two key things right. First, it has the goods. Visuals are both unbelievably gorgeous and completely believably accurate.
Second, it doesn’t use the CGI in vain. This is a story that would be impossible to tell with a real camera. So many movies waste time and money getting computer images when they could have had the real thing, but Gravity actually takes its audience thousands of miles above anywhere we will ever go.
For all its visual splendor, Gravity would be nothing more than smoke and mirrors without a powerful, human story at its heart. This film is the most emotionally intense cinema experience since the Breaking Bad finale. Writer/director/producer Alfonso Cuarón knocks the script out of the park as much as anything else.
The story is remarkably well-written and well-constructed. Structurally, it’s a horror movie — but in place of a slasher, Stone is stalked by the ever-present danger of where she is. Stone has all the marks of a Final Girl, and Gravity is a fantastic introduction to the concept.
Because it is character driven and because of the difficulties in acting against a green wall, Bullock and George Clooney are the real engines that drive Gravity. Universal went through Angelina Jolie, Marion Cotillard, Scarlet Johansson, Blake Lively and Natalie Portman before interviewing Bullock and Robert Downey, Jr. backed out before Clooney was hired. Gravity is very much a character driven film, but it only has two characters. Settling for second and sixth choices in those roles could have crippled the film, but the duo carries the action wonderfully.
There is every reason to see this movie in theaters. There’s even an argument to be made to see it in 3D. But there’s just as much reason to see it on a tiny analogue screen through a shop window. It’s a masterpiece.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a staff writer for the NT Daily. The U.S. government is seriously still shut down. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back next week for a review of Machete Kills.