I really want to hate Alfonso Cuaron’s smash hit, Gravity, and there are plenty of reasons why I should. The film’s plot, a tired tale of a bio-medical engineer with plenty of emotional baggage, who struggles to survive in space as debris destroys her ship and kills her fellow crew members, is goofy and propelled by myriad scientific inaccuracies. The engineer, played by Sandra Bullock, has the same boring faith crises that countless other sci-fi protagonists have faced. The most immediate example that pops into my mind is Mel Gibson in Signs. The film also features a terrible performance from George Clooney, who takes his wisecracking veteran astronaut to the smarmiest depths possible. That said, I put myself into the perfect setting to enjoy the film and came out of the experience thrilled and mostly satisfied.
Warner Bros.’ marketing effort to hype up Gravity as the ultimate filmgoing experience is not overblown. This is a testament to the validity of the digital 3D and IMAX formats. I try to avoid 3D as it tends to make me dizzy, but Gravity doesn’t have many gimmicky moments where something pops out at you. The 3D mostly serves to texturize what’s going on onscreen and it complements the artful nature of Cuaron’s visuals. The space setting is so meticulously crafted that I felt fully immersed. There are too many action sequences, but they are all pulse pounders. It’s a wonder I didn’t break the hands of the people sitting on either side of me. Cuaron may have sacrificed his great character development from earlier films, but he’s perhaps the most efficient action director currently working.
Sandra Bullock will never give an incredible performance, but here she’s highly effective as a blockbuster leading lady and a marketing tool. Her character has to be the most likable person possible because that makes us want her to succeed all the more. It also helps that Bullock’s personal marriage troubles, which played out in tabloids in 2010, lend to the film’s theme of letting go and persevering. I give her credit for making scenes where she talked to herself bearable, where another actress might have made them campy. She’s the perfect choice of a lead to justify spending $100,000,000 on a non-franchise science fiction film.
I certainly wish Cuaron had crafted a story and characters who are befitting of his cinematic vision, and this makes me almost entirely certain that I would never watch Gravity again unless it were in IMAX 3D. The viewing circumstances are key and the film doesn’t have much going for it beyond the visuals. Comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey are ludicrous as Stanley Kubrick’s film was a philosophical opus on the nature of existence and how that plays out in a futuristic space setting. Gravity, in comparison is totally lightweight and I think it won’t stand the test of time as films with similar or greater visual achievements are released. As a thrilling movie experience, the likes of which I haven’t encountered since James Cameron’s similarly goofy Avatar, I think it succeeds admirably.