October 15, 2013

Gravity (10/15/2013)

Lettergrade: A-

My friend Randy saw Gravity recently (in 3D IMAX!) and was completely blown away by it. We both agreed that on a visual level, the movie is as immersive and as stunning as any that either of us have seen - and hey, I only saw it in a regular 2D theater!

While talking about the various story points, he said something I thought was really interesting: That in a sense, Gravity is a "great" movie without necessarily being a "good" one.

I understood right away what he meant (although I might not have put it that way, exactly). I suppose the story itself - which finds Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, the lone survivors of NASA team sent up into orbit to perform some satellite repairs, only to be interrupted by some Russian space debris that destroys their shuttle and makes their chances of survival slim - does get a little contrived now and again, but if we're talking about Gravity as a work of pure cinema - as in something that's meant to be seen and experienced as much as it is meant to be contemplated and understood - I'm not sure I can find another picture that filled me with as much anxiety and tension for 90 minutes as this one does.

To that end, discussing this picture and what happens in it, seems to be a bit of a pointless exercise to me that will only undercut the experience for the uninitiated. I will comment, however, that Sandra Bullock really knocked my socks off here. I've always liked her, but she typically doesn't make movies that are aimed at my demographic, and so I haven't seen many of them. I have, however, occasionally acquiesced to seeing movies like The Proposal with my wife (as partial payback for forcing her to sit through crap like Scary Movie 4), and I have to admit that she's usually quite good in them.

Since Gravity is mostly from her perspective (Clooney is the only other actor who appears on screen - all others are voice only), she's got to carry much of the movie herself, and she does so beautifully. The movie is a fairly primal survivor story, and at times reminds me a bit of the stripped down, limited-point-of-view qualities of both Cast Away and (more obviously) Apollo 13. Nevertheless, the storytelling is interesting and unique… I appreciated that while the movie gradually fills some of the backstory for its two actors, it does so in a very clean, matter-of-fact way that isn't overly emotive, kind of "1970s style," really.

It's been an interesting year for movies in that some of them have been allowed to be a little more lean and economical in their storytelling than big VFX driven event pictures have been for the last twelve years or so (you know, the ones that typically run 3 hours). This movie only runs about 90 minutes, and plays perfectly at that length… no other frills and accoutrements are needed. Now that parenthood has made my free time much more precious and valuable than it used to be, I appreciated that Gravity found a way to be so brief, yet so powerful and memorable.

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