Review: Gravity pulls you in

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. Thing 1: Go see Gravity right now. Thing 2: It MUST be seen in 3D. Thing 3: Spring for the extra money and see it in IMAX 3D. I realize now I should have done this.

Gravity is an utterly breathtaking masterpiece that completely takes you out of yourself and makes you feel as if you’re floating in orbit with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, especially in the seamless, one-shot bravura opening segment. Film students will be studying this one for generations.

I don’t remember the last time I so completely lost myself inside a movie. Alfonso Cuarón has set a new standard, not just for space-based storytelling but for all of film. Gravity is a cinematic milestone in the same way Kubrick’s 2001 was.

It hides its technical brilliance in plain sight. Yes, there are effects moviegoers have never seen before, but you don’t stop and think about them while the action is happening, as in the 15-minute opening scene done in one continuous take, where at one point the camera flies into Bullock’s helmet and back out again. We experience the joy and beauty of orbital space with white-knuckle terror in the span of minutes.

The space station fire is as gorgeous as it is frightening, and seeing the flames grow and spread in free-fall is scarier than any space-monster. A scene where Bullock’s tears flow from her eyes and then off her face to float inside a space capsule will stay with you a long time. That brief moment alone is a work of art.

I was prepared to gush over this movie as a science-fiction fan, and praise it on those terms, but Gravity transcends any genre. I don’t consider it science fiction because it’s set in the present with current technology showing astronauts doing work they do today, just as if it were set on, say, an oil rig in the Gulf.

Scientifically, I’ve never seen a more accurate portrayal of being in space on the movie screen. The free-fall effects are perfect, preserving mass and inertia. Let the science nerd in me remind you that you weigh as much in orbit as you do on the ground – there’s just about as much gravity in orbit as there is on good old terra firma. It’s only because of free-fall that you feel weightless, like dropping fast in an elevator. Orbit is nothing more than moving so fast in a direction that you’re “falling” around the earth.

The most incredible thing about this film as that if you take a few steps back and set the technical breakthroughs aside, it really is minimalist. There are very few actors involved and the plot is straightforward and simple. It’s very nearly told in real time but at no point will your attention wander. There are no flash-backs, no explanatory voiceovers and no change of scene from start to finish. You stay inside the story for the entire 90 minutes.

I’ve heard several actresses passed on this before Bullock took the role. Those actresses should be kicking themselves right now because Bullock’s is an Oscar-worthy performance and one that will be remembered for a long time, to be praised even more because most of her screen time is spent alone. And Clooney gets an awful lot of mileage playing to his persona as charming ladies’ man who knows how to do his job. Ed Harris as the voice of mission control is a nice nod to Apollo 13.

Gravity gets 10 stars out of 5. If I appear to be gushing, I’m underselling it.

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