Director Alfonso Cuarón has successfully traversed the wide landscape of film over the last 20 years, offering up projects as varied as the family period drama The Little Princess to the cult, coming-of-age tale Y Tu Mamá También. More recently audiences will know him as the director of one of the most popular Harry Potter blockbusters, the Prisoner of Azkaban, but he has also helmed the dystopian sci-fi film Children of Men and served as a producer on Guillermo Del Toro’s masterful Pan’s Labyrinth. And in 2013 he returned with something altogether unique and different yet again – Gravity (12).
This visually stunning, beautifully simple tale about human survival playing out against the cold vastness of space is about to hit Blu-ray with a 3D edition. Here’s why it should be top of your to-watch list!
What’s It About? Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), an engineer, is on her first shuttle mission under the command of veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney). Kowalski is on his last mission and looking forward to going home, but before their work is finished they receive word from Mission Control that a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite has caused space debris to hurtle unexpectedly into their path. As they shut down and prepare for re-entry, contact with Mission Control is lost and they are thrust into the endless vastness of space. The question becomes – can they survive?
Verdict: Since the phenomenon of Harry Potter, the movie industry has become saturated with book adaptations. Some are good, some are bad, but either way it has put an emphasis on longer run-times, more heavily-plotted stories, and sometimes a difficult balance to strike between faithfully portraying the complex story whilst serving the visual nature of film. As a result, the stark simplicity, purity, and often clarity that visual storytelling is capable of has taken a step back from the mainstream. It’s in this context that Cuarón’s Gravity is a breath of fresh air. With a run-time of only 90 minutes, barely more than two characters, and driven by visual narrative, this is a story that manages to convey everything from the psychology of isolation to the keen, breathless need to survive, from the practicality of sheer physical existence to the ways the landscapes of our physical lives elementally change our psyches. It’s a movie of big ideas, created with masterful subtlety, and some of the most beautiful cinematography you’ll ever have seen.
Cuarón skilfully weaves vision and sound to build character, tension, and plot. From the very first shots, in mere seconds, the scope is evident. It takes a similarly small time for the characters of Kowalski and Stone to be established – with his whizzing motion and her careful, considered movements, we immediately see the dynamic on display before barely any lines of dialogue have been uttered. And all of this set against a pristine, serene backdrop of space and the planet earth that is simply faultless. The camera glides through the scene in a kind of ballet, moving effortlessly from one revealing shot to the next, speaking volumes with a few frames. The action sequences are breath-taking in their simplicity and capture a kind of brutal beauty that doesn’t take away from the horror of the scene. Couple that with the sound – a careful mix of cleverly timed silence, harsh electronic beeps and static, and haunting music – and you have something special. This is a film that deserves a second watch.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney turn in typically wonderful performances, but Bullock especially shines. It’s not an easy feat for one actor to carry most of a film, but – with extra-long and lingering camera shots, action sequences that require a huge amount of fitness and stealth, and some emotional scenes that are borderline devastating – it’s easy to see why Bullock is not only an Oscar-winning actress but also Oscar-nominated for her performance in this film.
Extras: With nine Behind the Scenes features, focusing on all elements of production, as well as five shot breakdowns, a documentary about cleaning up space, a short film by the director’s son and the film’s co-writer, Jonás Cuarón, and finally a list of the festivals that the film premiered at, film lovers should be pretty sated with the extras on offer!
Final Words: A spectacle for the senses, a treat for the mind, and a masterful exercise in filmmaking, Cuarón’s Gravity has some of the most stunning cinematography, powerful performances, and haunting themes of any film released in recent years. It’s no surprise that it’s a contender at the Oscars and it will surely be considered a modern classic.
Gravity is on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D on 3 March 2014 and on Digital Download on 2 March 2014.