out of Five
Running time: 90
Gripping and utterly immersive space thriller with awe-inspiring visuals, state-of-the-art special effects, unmissable 3D work and a terrific central performance from Sandra Bullock.
What's it all about?
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity stars Sandra Bullock as medical engineer Doctor Ryan Stone, who undertakes her first space mission to do some satellite repair work, under the supervision of about-to-retire veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney). However, during a routine space walk, their space shuttle is cripplingly damaged by drifting debris from a Russian satellite, stranding them in space without means of communicating with Mission Control (a cameoing Ed Harris as Houston, in a nice nod to Apollo 13).
With dwindling oxygen supplies and the threat of the accumulated debris returning on its next orbit, Stone and Kowalsky have to figure out how to get back to Earth before their time runs out. Their only hope seems to lie in crossing the void and reaching a Russian space station, but Stone isn't convinced they can make it.
On the surface, Sandra Bullock is an unusual choice for a part like this (you half expect it to turn into Sandra Bullock's Adventures In Space), but the wisdom behind her casting soon becomes apparent, as she has an immensely likeable, vulnerable quality that means you root for her unreservedly. Clooney is equally good as her wise-cracking mentor, who turns out to be almost superhumanly level-headed in a crisis – if you had to choose an actor to be stranded in space with, Clooney's definitely your man.
That said, the performances are essentially secondary to the jaw-dropping visual effects work (there's not a single moment that looks computer-generated) and some unmissable 3D wizardry that makes it feel like you're actually floating in space. The visuals are truly awe-inspiring, in the dictionary sense of the word, contrasting the beauty of blue-green Earth on the one side with the terror of black nothingness on the other, the ultimate goal so tantalisingly visible at all times, alongside the empty darkness that symbolises failure and death.
Cuaron keeps the action moving at an impressive pace, leaving you very little time for actual breathing. The only slight disappointment is that the script doesn't attempt anything existential or profound (think the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey), though it does throw in a number of wry jokes (such as a cameo by a floating Marvin the Martian figurine) and pleasing allusions to other films (e.g. Solaris), most notably when Stone strips down to her underwear in zero gravity, essentially invoking the spirit of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. There's also a brilliant final scene that involves a subtle joke about the film's title.
With awe-inspiring visuals, state-of-the-art special effects and a terrific central performance from Sandra Bullock, Gravity is a superbly directed, nerve-shredding thriller that demands to be seen on the biggest 3D-equipped screen you can find. Highly recommended.