The film is set during a fictitious Shuttle Explorer's STS-157 mission. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a medical engineer on her first space shuttle mission aboard the Space Shuttle Explorer. She is accompanied by veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), who is commanding his final expedition. During a spacewalk to service the Hubble Space Telescope, Mission Control in Houston warns the team about a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite, which has caused a chain reaction forming a cloud of space debris. Mission Control orders that the mission be aborted. Shortly after, communications with Mission Control are lost, though the astronauts continue to transmit, hoping that the ground crew can still hear them.
Nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity might be the most intelligent and interesting blockbuster to come out of Hollywood since many years. With a big budget and a will to make things believable and scientifically reliable, Cuaron’s behemoth of a film is visually stunning and technically at the state of the art.
Let’s get the fact that it is not a revisitation of some themes from 2001 : A Space Odyssey, even if there is the theme of the rebirth of mankind and it is one of the most successful films set in space, the comparison stops here. Gravity is based on human, Murphy’s Law, scientific training, and improvisation. There’s a nice depth to the film but the action and the tension are taking so much of space that it doesn’t let much to the story. There’s however a lot in the images and the silences of the space. The technical mastery of Alfonso Cuaron is clear and with this film he will be widely recognized even if in this critics’ opinion Children of Men demonstrated this already.
It is a crime to not mention Emanuel Lubezki’s cinematography in which he shot some of the most sumptuous and breathtaking fake space shots ever. We capture the isolation but also the vast emptiness of the elements that the astronauts are confronted. The use of 65 mm film and 3D was, for those who had the opportunity to watch it in IMAX, the greatest achievement of the technology.
Despite the exaggeration of the action scenes and the actual luck that Stone and Kowalski had to make their challenges, the audience is at the edge of its seat. It is the simple story that lacks the little plus that could have bring this film to let’s say a masterpiece or even a near masterpiece. It brings me on a discussion on the value of the Best Director prizes. Like at the Golden Globe where they gave it to Cuaron for Gravity. It is the same for the Oscars, I believe that it was discerned for his mastery at the technical elements of the film and the outstanding use of visual effects. However, the recognition of Best Director should be discerned for the best storyteller, filmmaker, master at the visual, and being the voice that embraces all those elements together. For me, Alfonso Cuaron kind of missed it like Christopher Nolan with Inception. A very good movie also but it has a poor story and a great depiction of visual effects. This is an attempt at making a genre film into a auteur film. Which is a respectable goal but that missed the mark a bit.
Overall, Gravity demonstrates that Major studios can still invest in original material and films that are ambitious and still respect their audience. It doesn’t take for granted that people need to have their information chewed and digested for them while being an outstanding entertainment.