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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gravity (Release Date: 10-4-2013)

        I have been waiting on Gravity for the better part of two years now, constantly checking for updates, chomping at the bit to finally get a peak. Director Alfonso Cuarón last made our collective heads spin with the stunning Children of Men, a masterpiece that belongs near the top of any Best-Movies-of-the-2000's list that's worth its salt, but that dystopian blast was released a long seven years ago. Mounting his follow-up epic was a messy process indeed, full of production delays and pushed release dates, all while the creative team involved struggled to create and tame new technology and techniques. But the buzz was always there: rumors about the movie's incredible visuals began circulating near the end of 2011, prompting me to rank the film as an early frontrunner in last year's Oscar chase (to be clear, the flick was released 541 days after I made that prediction). So when the film finally arrived, I went in expecting an ascent to heaven, a visit from god, an explanation of all things, and whatever else it is that a feature cannot actually provide. This, ladies and gentlemen, is no way to anticipate a movie.

        Which isn't to say that Gravity is a big let down or anything (pun intended); in fact, it's about as close to perfect as movies really get, relaying a notably small story across an impossibly enormous canvas. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski respectively, a pair of astronauts sent into orbit to perform simple satellite repair. Stone is new to this wrap, the very opposite of Kowalski, here on his swan-song mission, and laid back as all get-out.

        That's all we really get before tragedy strikes, sending our leads drifting off into the endless abyss of space, desperately seeking refuge (desperate might be a strong word for any Clooney character, really. Concerned, maybe?). In a twist that feels much more unfamiliar than it should, Cuarón and company feel no need to pad their tale of survival with cascades of backstory and cut-aways, nor do they mistake an epic runtime for an epic experience (the film lasts a lightning-fast 90 minutes). Clooney and Bullock are the only thespians we ever see, and with a touch of obligatory mother-daughter hang-ups, the film trusts that the charisma of its leads and the perils they experience will be plenty for the viewer to take in. It's right.

        Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who already has two of the most stunningly photographed films of the last decade on his resume (The Tree of Life, and the aforementioned Children of Men) simply must finally capture his elusive first Oscar. Regardless of the holes factual physicists are already poking at, experiencing Gravity on the big screen legitimately conjures feelings of weightlessness, drift, and impossible altitude, owing its visceral feel to Lubezki, and his brilliant use of 3D. Oh, and its impossibly beautiful, moments of tear-jerking grandeur spiraling into heart-pounding action seamlessly.

        So why the semi-downer intro? Because, as I watched Gravity, waiting for it to solve all of the mysteries of the universe, my expectations got in the way of my viewing experience, a problem I expect others who see its 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and hear their friends rant and rave will encounter. For such an ethereal viewing, Cuarón's film is remarkably disinterested in both pathos and ethos: it's almost more of a ride than an actual movie, like one of those video simulators at theme parks, taken to the grandest scale humanly imaginable. Deeply connecting with Gravity on an emotional level is nearly impossible, which was clearly the intention all along. This is a spectacle of the very highest order, and Cuarón doesn't want anything to get in the way of his audience's unparalleled ascent to the stars. Make sure to get a good grip on those armrests; you're gunna need 'em.

Grade: A-

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