Thursday, November 14, 2013

Movie Review: Gravity

Whats this? Another movie review? Yes, that means that we did get to the cinema twice in one day, for the first time in what is possibly decades and certainly since Ewan was born. Of course, Ewan did get to come with us to see Thor: The Dark World, one of the pleasures of him getting older is that we are able to share our cinema going habits with him. Another year or so and we'll be able to take Robert, albeit to the sort of dreadful kids movies that Ewan grown out of. Anyway, after Thor, we dropped fled the kids for the evening and went to take in Gravity, a very different sort of film-going experience. And, because we saw it in 3D, a fair more expensive one!

So, even though this was the opening weekend for Gravity it was hard not to go in carrying a fair bit of baggage. It's been out in the US for several weeks, and done extremely well there, and early reviews in the UK have been of the "Oh My Glob You Guys, It's Like, Totally Awesome!" variety, describing it as a cinematic masterpiece, a game-changer to stand alongside...well, I'm not sure really, thats where the argument starts to break down. Because Gravity is a pretty simple movie, a straightforward plot and characters that don't really develop beyond broad strokes, and much of its undoubted power comes from how it's shot and presented, so in effect you're judging an extended 3D demo reel. Only perhaps the best demo reel ever created.

So, after an accident strands rookie astronaut Sandra Bullock and veteran astronaut George Clooney in orbit, without contact and with no rescue in sight, Gravity is a traditional survival narrative at heart, as the characters need to get to the next island of safety, jumping from peril to peril, always just one step (or float) ahead. I'm hesitant to break it down too much because a) spoilers and b) it is all a little contrived, with danger always only just out of reach on top of the background level of no air, no heat, and the whole "being in space" thing. The key here is that this is a 90 minute movie, and the brevity in plot becomes a strength, as it ratchets up the tension to near-unbearable levels with very little let up.

The big selling point is, of course, the special effects. I've always been a 3D skeptic, but the depth of field in Gravity is astounding, really selling the distances involved as we float over the Earth, so far away. Even without that I suspect it would fantastic, with the floating movement and slow-motion destruction giving it a veracity that most space-based stories don't quite achieve. The soaring, every-angled camera shots, with Afonso Cuaron's trademark long takes, also sell the idea of a floating viewpoint on events.

All this means that I wouldn't be surprised if that, by Oscar season, there is a backlash against Gravity. After all, it's "just" a tight, disciplined survival thriller with bleeding edge special effects used to brilliant effect. It doesn't say much about the Human Condition, it doesn't have a complex plot you can stroke your chin over. But all cinema is trickery, all cinema is about getting a reaction from you, unearned, in that darkened auditorium, to give you a response you've maybe not had before. And Gravity succeeds at that with ease.