Don’t get me wrong, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is good. It’s very good. And right now it’s the fair-haired boy of cinema, pulling down much more money than was expected. (That has a lot to do with the studio and critics convincing viewers to see it in 3-D.) However, is it, as has been claimed, the greatest film ever? Is it the best use of 3-D of all time? Is it a work as revolutionary as 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? No, no and no. Less ridiculously hyperbolic and more to the point, is it a worthy follow-up to Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) and was it worth waiting seven years for? Sadly, I’m saying no and no here, too, though I do rate Cuarón in the upper reaches of modern filmmakers.
Gravity is a beautifully made sci-fi suspense picture. On that level, the film is beyond reproach — apart from one cheesy shock effect complete with musical sting (you’ll know it when you see it). Its story is simple suspense material — two astronauts are left adrift in space by an accident and face death by lack of oxygen and flying debris. For setup, Cuarón wisely cast two performers — Sandra Bullock and George Clooney — who come complete with audience sympathy built in. This allows him to get on with the business of the story with minimum muss and fuss. Both Bullock and Clooney are fine, though it’s really Bullock’s show. A couple of times her rom-com background comes through, yes, but that’s really our baggage more than it’s her performance.
The life-and-death urgency of it all is undeniably intense. The effects work is flawless. I never doubted for a moment that what I was seeing was real. The 3-D is certainly good, but I suspect Gravity works just as well without it. (Hugo and The Great Gatsby both impressed me more as serious uses of the format.) Even while I was sure I was being led down the garden path with one far-fetched plot turn (and I was), I had no objection and it didn’t remove me from the story. That’s the thing that makes Cuarón’s film such compelling entertainment: It keeps you locked into that story and caring about what happens. For all its technical panache and spectacular visuals, it remains a firmly human story.
Also in the film’s favor is that it’s extremely efficient. It gets down to its story and delivers it with admirable economy and then has the good sense not to drag it out beyond its value. You don’t so much watch the film as experience it. The only downside is that it goes almost too fast. There’s a lack of heft to it all in that regard. Everything is so immediate that when it ends, it more or less just releases the viewer so that you leave the theater feeling satisfied — but not really left with all that much to stick with you. At least, that’s my experience. Compare this with the incredible banquet that was Children of Men, and, even for all its undeniable merit, Gravity still feels like Cuarón-lite. By all means, see it. But if it actually does change your idea of cinema, you might want to see more movies. Rated PG-13 for intense, perilous sequences, some disturbing images and strong language.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas.