Sunday, October 6, 2013
Gravity is at the very edge of greatness, but held back by a catch-22 imposed on the director by a harsh reality. It's a good movie, but that's the problem: it doesn't want to be a movie at all. It wants to be something else. The complication is that this particular "something else" doesn't exist, at least not in a way that would have allowed the director to play with the elements that make Gravity awesome.
There's a lot of cool stuff going on here. This is the closest most of us are ever going to get to being in space, and supposedly, it's a really good facsimile. That was clearly the director's goal: to show us what it's actually like in orbit. Appropriately, the threats they encountered were all completely real. No aliens or super science here: just space junk.
In fact, the technology and threats present in the movie are all so real, it's not even clear this should be called science-fiction. This is a dramatized thriller about something that could happen. And while there's certainly an existential undercurrent to the story, the primary theme being communicated is simply the experience of being in space itself: the sense of weightlessness, the total lack of direction, the beauty, and the terror.
That's where the vision of the movie is held back by the very fact it's a movie. Cuarón set out to create an experience, and that experience isn't enhanced by a 90 minute run time. He could have shaved this down to half that and lost none of the movie's impact. But he'd never have managed to get it on every IMAX screen in the country, which was essential in delivering his work to an audience.
For all intents and purposes, there are three characters in Gravity, and one is the camera. The other two are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, both of whom do a great job. But they're not really playing movie characters: structurally, they're actually closer to people in video games.
Bullock plays a point-of-view. From time-to-time, the camera even dips into her helmet and gives us a first-person perspective. We're meant to experience the movie as she does: it's a testament to her skill that we do. Clooney has a different role: he's the NPC telling her (and by extension us) how to survive the next objective. Likewise, the dialogue and acting is good enough that we don't mind, but the similarities are difficult to ignore.
It's definitely pushing boundaries. This has elements from video games, amusement park rides, and - yes - films. As such, it doesn't deliver everything we're used to getting from a movie, but instead gives us something a bit different.
Gravity is extremely cool. Seeing it on the big screen is a fantastic experience, and I'd encourage you to give it a try. There's very little here that would survive being viewed at home: this is definitely worth seeing in 3D (and on IMAX, if at all possible).