One of the most incredible and memorable moments of my life was going to Cape Canaveral with my dad and sister to see the final launch of the space shuttle program. I had always been a space geek, even before Neil deGrasse Tyson made it cool to learn a few bullet points about space and look at Hubble photos on Facebook. I didn’t have great seats, crammed into a small park across a waterway from the launch site, but it was still one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. More than the sight, or even the impressive sound, what I remember most was the heat on my face. I don’t know why it made such an impact, perhaps simply because I never expected it. But I will always remember the warmth I felt as Atlantis left Earth one last time in July of 2011.
I tell you this not only because I will tell that story to anyone who will listen, but to illustrate that for me, Gravity had a pretty high bar to reach. Of course a movie isn’t going to compare to my experience on the day in Florida, but the space shuttle program has a very special place in my heart, so any movie dealing with it had better do it justice.
Set in an alternate reality in which the space shuttle program continues to operate, in terms of a sensory experience, Gravity meets and exceeds every bit of hype ithas received. Alfonso Cuaron, best known for directing 2004’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and 2006’s much-praised Children of Men, creates a truly mesmerizing, breathtaking landscape in the beautiful landscape of Earth’s orbit. More than simply a pretty picture, however, Cuaron uses long, breathless takes to create incredible tension and suspense as disaster takes control of the screen, making the universally foreign setting of space feel imminently dangerous and real. And that reality is what separates Gravity from countless other space films – it is not science fiction, but rather it feels like something palpable, sensible and sincere.
In addition to simply being a thrill ride of a film, Gravity is grounded in a basic, yet powerful, emotional story. Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, and essentially no one else, save for the voice of Ed Harris as mission control, the character’s motivations are delicately unraveled and revealed beautifully as the film unfolds. As Bullock comes to grips with the reality of moving on after the death of a child, her revelation is balanced perfectly with the imminent disaster and desperation of the surrounding catastrophes. In a performance that is both powerful and grounded, Bullock plays in perfect harmony with the film around her.
As awards season gets underway, Gravity sets a high bar in both technical and performance excellence. In the vast emptiness of space, with a minimal cast, this film creates a vibrant, thrilling, and gorgeous landscape. It’s definitely worth the extra few dollars for IMAX, or at least 3D, Gravity is more than a trip down my own memory lane. It is a truly captivating and exhilarating film for all.