Then we heard that Angelina Jolie was attached, replaced by Sandra Bullock, and that George Clooney was joining her. Alfonso Cuarón's film was managing to become something big and something real. Yet it was still a concept and story I couldn't quite fathom being made, no matter how big the talent.
Come closer to the screening time (thank you for screening it to Scottish media) I started hearing great things about it but they were all talking about the effects and the excitement. Was this going to be one big rollercoaster ride of a film with not much substance? That wouldn't be a bad thing though would it? Well, I was about to find out, and you are too.
A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Really I think that's all that needs said about the plot don't you?
The film opens extremely positively and powerfully with a great title sequence that proclaims more about the film's audio than anything else. The sound rises to a crescendo over the simple opening title and hits you like a brick wall with the silence of space as we see the Earth from orbit.
The intent here is clear, the audio is going to play an important part in the film and it lives up to that promise from start to finish. The audio really helps to heighten the action and tension and the opening use really does help to give you the feeling of the emptiness and loneliness of space.
The other intention the film makes clear in those opening seconds is just how fantastic the visuals are going to be. The opening scene of the Earth from space is dazzling and it stays at this level all the way through, in fact at times it delivers even more. With such a heavy effects film there's usually something that lets it down, a moment where it lets the audience slip away, but with Gravity there wasn't a single moment, not one.
The opening scenes just continue to look amazing and give an utterly believable feeling of the characters being in space. It's a showcase of the effects and style we're going to be watching throughout the film. I thought that this was a fantastic sequence that looks gorgeous and even before anything dramatic happens in the story you feel yourself being drawn towards the front of your seat. I found myself captured in the situation and the experience before the action actually began.
The scene also sets up the two main characters really well, delivering their backstories in the context of the scene. You're easily drawn to George Clooney's character and not so much to our leading lady from Sandra Bullock. I loved the dialogue for his character from the beginning, feeling a little like his E.R. doctor just in space. He does a great job of making you believe in him, just as Sandra Bullock's character will, eventually.
I didn't think Bullock's character was so easy to accept. For me I felt that she was a little too stereotypical as the screaming, panicking woman. It seemed strange that she went through all this astronaut training and yet repeatedly forgot basic things, this is despite her being about to operate foreign space vehicles with foreign manuals, or repair the Hubble telescope in space. Her ongoing forgetfulness to breathe slowly, despite repeated reminders from the experienced astronaut, the oxygen alarm going off and eventually the carbon dioxide alarm. Even with all that she keeps forgetting, or rather she just doesn't do it, preferring to flap and panic.
It's a similar situation with the multiple times she is flying towards an object where she needs to simply grab hold, you know the standard basic instinct in humans. Again she is repeatedly told she's going to have to do this and yet she just flaps her arms about, screams and pants rapidly.
This character carries this weak nature from the outset and I think it does somewhat of a disservice to female astronauts, although I'm sure that wasn't the intent. Saying that though couldn't we have had the sexes of the characters reversed, or a less drastic change, how about not having the female astronaut screaming and so seemingly helpless without the assistance of the male astronaut? Things do even out and she does hold her own later on though, her character becoming stronger and more attractive to the audience as the film progresses.
Putting this slightly sexist stereotype to the side for the moment there is the question of an astronaut going through all their training, even if the script hints at six months being quick, and being sent into space unable to deal with the basic requirements of being an astronaut, you know, like being in space. It doesn't feel right to me and it may seem a small point in the entirety of the film but resolved it could have added quite a bit extra and more importantly it wouldn't have distracted me from the rest of it.
However Sandra Bullock does easily manage to carry the film through to the very end, perhaps because her character isn't the most complex, but whatever the reason she does a fantastic job. Not to say that she couldn't carry the film even with a more complex character and story to deal with, but for any one actor or actress to keep control of the audience's attention and emotions for this period of time is a difficult thing to do, even with this amount of visual effects around her.
From these opening scenes the film powers forward with a cleverly conceived and written story that keeps you on the edge of your seat right through to the end. There are a series of cleverly created challenges for the character to overcome that keep increasing the tension and in power, and when you think that the film could drop the ball it picks it up and throws it further.
The opening scenes in space do a wonderful job of convincing you that you really are there and of the expanse and loneliness, of the fragility of the astronauts and ultimately of the wonder of life. Very quickly you find yourself absorbed in the situation and the experience of the characters, and once the characters have been covered the film waits a couple of beats and grabs you tightly and doesn't let you go.
The effects go a long way to convincing you of the reality in the story, there isn't a moment through the film that you doubt where the characters are or what's happening. The effects don't override the film and neither do we find it relying on the big effects moments. For example the shots of massive space stations being obliterated by space debris are utterly amazing but then so are the small scenes like the small pockets of flame leaping around in zero G. Convincing effects sounds like an average thing to say about a film, and if you're watching a car or plane crash then that's probably true, but when we're talking about the feeling of being in space it's simply stunning.
Speaking of the effects I have to address the 3D. You may know that I'm no fan of 3D in films except for when it's used correctly, as one of the many layers of a film to bring it to life and not something that stands out above the film and the story, nor something that is done in a half-arsed post production way. Well even though Gravity is post production 3D it's also implemented and used properly, as just one of many facets of film-making. Mind you with so much of space being so far away there's no real depth out there so more often than not the 3D is really only for close floating objects. What's clever though is that the film makes use of this rather than just having a few scenes with objects floating by your eyes.
The story as a whole lives up to the somewhat flat and stereotypical female character. There's not a great deal to the actual story, and not a lot to get into and away from the effects you'll certainly feel like you've seen much of it before. Once the effects and location are pulled back the story is quite light, an emotional hook to Earth that is built just enough and the stronger hook to the other astronaut which actually works really well, are all we really have. Still that latter plot point provides a good pivotal moment for the main character which, while it too is something you've seen before, is done well. The way that pivotal scene is written and edited does make it work particularly well, not only for that surprise but to help us keep believing in the character.
Still, strip away the rollercoaster and the story is pretty thin and while Clooney's character has some meat to him, Bullock's does feel rather thin and conveniently written. Yet this film is about the rollercoaster and the uniqueness of that ride, not so much the story.
The ending is superb and I loved the way the final scenes were filmed, it brought to mind the idea of the origin of life or a first time visitor to a new planet. The scene fitted perfectly with the character's journey and the rest of the film and it was the perfect place to end it.
Gravity is a really enjoyable film, it's a cleverly conceived action adventure that on paper doesn't seem like it could work at all and yet it does. Alfonso Cuarón has created a visually exciting joyride of a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish while at the same time delivering something new and not seen before.
It is visually stunning, even with the 3D added in post production, and from the shots of the Earth during space walks to the amazing interior shots of fire in zero gravity or the 2010 homage shot, there's not even a single scene that slips in quality from the rest.
Even the choices to swap into first person perspective, which more often than not in films slam into the audience and push them away, slip in and out without any effort and feel like they've been placed well.
If there had been a little more to the main character and her story then I would have loved this even more and added this to the Filmstalker Recommends list. Don't get me wrong though, this is an exciting and enjoyable thrill ride that you will really enjoy. This film isn't about the the characters and the story behind them, all that we see is just here to make the rollercoaster ride happen, and what a ride it is.