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It’s really a shame that TV screens (even the big ones) are so small, great movies play for such a short time in theaters (getting replaced by garbage) and repertoire IMAX theaters are probably never going to exist. I didn’t get to see “Gravity” on an IMAX screen – the nearest one is 400 miles away from where I live – and I probably never will. That’s disappointing, because this is a movie that screams for a big-ass screen. “You’ll want to find an IMAX screen, 3D, Dolby Atmos sound,” says Alfonso Cuaron, in an interview with Roger Moore. “The visuals and the sound are most immersive in this setting. This is a film that was created for depth and scale. I want audiences floating in space, partaking of the journey with the characters.”

Actually, it all works pretty well, even on an iPhone screen. Cuaron has made a visually stunning movie, one that, while perhaps not exactly the stretching the boundaries of visual media, at least shows what kind of art can be made with the tools other, lesser directors are using to dink around with magnificently boring scenes of extended destruction. (Almost every 3D movie I see makes me think of Penelope Cruz, in Pirates of the Caribbean: “every time I see you, you’re poking something at me.”) “Gravity” is gasp inducing and breathtaking. It’s a visual masterpiece that you really have to see.

Sandra Bullock plays a rookie astronaut paired with George Clooney, a seasoned space walker doing his best Buzz Lightyear impression. There’s a third guy in the movie, but the only important thing about him is that he dies when a freak storm of broken satellite pieces strike the shuttle and crew. Bullock and Clooney are then stranded with a broken ship, floating in infinite space, utterly cut off from Houston and the rest of Earth, looming large in their vision, looking so close but seeming more and more impossible to reach all the time.

It is worth noting what is left out of “Gravity.” Compare it, for instance, “Apollo 13,” another great film with a very similar plot. That film cuts to the control center, the families, the ticking clock. The whole world gets involved. But “Gravity” cuts away. The camera almost never leaves Bullock. When Bullock loses contact, we lose contact. It’s unsettling, and a key to what the film is really about.

…And this is where it gets tricky, because I don’t want to spoil the movie for you. But suffice it to say that Bullock has a back-story that a lot of people (read: critics) feel is clunky and unnecessary, added to make the character feel more human. But I think that’s completely upside down. I suspect that Cuaron, writing with his son Jonas, started with this character, searched for an apt physical metaphor for her emotional arc, and landed in space. “Gravity” is where “Solaris” meets “Apollo 13.” And if you like either of those movies, you’re going to like this one.


Random Notes:

  • It’s interesting to me that Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts, both romcom queens of days past, play hard, emotionally unavailable women in 2013.
  •  “In space, life is impossible.”
  •  Critics mention the word “existential” quite a bit, especially “existential dread.”  I don’t think many of them have actually read Sartre or Camus.  What I think they mean is “what it means to exist.”


Further Reading

 A great article examining the digital effects used in “Gravity,” including the puppeteers from the Broadway version of “War Horse”

Roger Moore interviews Alfonso Cuaron (I quote this above.)   

An article about the (in my opinion, extremely MINOR) scientific inaccuracies in the movie.  

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