Gravity is a state-of-the-art film experience that will be remembered for setting new benchmarks in the industry.

The essence of a film lies in its ability to astonish us beyond what we imagine to be possible (or impossible). Every year just a handful of films manage to do this by leaving us in a state of awe and euphoria. For 2013, this is it – Gravity is a state-of-the-art film that you experience, rather than just watch on a big screen. And years from now, it will be remembered for setting new benchmarks in the filmmaking industry.

Cinematically speaking, this is not just my best movie of the year by the manner in which it is made or narrated, but because of the way it will change the world of motion pictures as we know it. Last year it was Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi and few years ago it was James Cameron’s Avatar. While the common thread running through these films are generous eye-popping visual effects, Gravity is far more superior in style, soul, effects and showmanship. That being said, there isn’t much of a story here, and like Life Of Pi before, the central theme is a white-knuckle do or die survival story. But that’s where the comparison ends. The opening scene is an unbroken 15 minute long-take that introduces us to veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) and Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) as they repair the Hubble telescope 600 kilometers above Earth. Matt is commanding his final space mission while Ryan is on her first. They joke around a bit, converse with mission control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) and a third astronaut working in the background. Then comes the dreaded “abort” after Houston warns that debris from a missile hit Russian satellite is headed their way. At speeds nearing 20,000 kilometers an hour, this debris becomes shrapnel that rips through their space shuttle, simultaneously killing the crew and severing communications with Houston. Barely surviving the hit, Matt and Ryan are now tiny white dots against the black expanse of outer space. And that’s not even the bad news. Low on oxygen and tumbling through hostile conditions of space, their only hope of survival is reaching the International Space Station before the aforementioned debris returns within orbital striking distance.

Matt estimates they have 90 minutes to get to the space station. Incidentally, this is also the runtime of the film where everything happens in real-time proximity. All through this runtime, Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón maintains a visceral deadlock between the viewer’s state of awe and the terrifying ordeal playing out on screen. But even against increasing panic, shortness of breath and imminent death, the narrative switches to a frantic fight for survival by clinging on to mankind’s most innate virtue – hope. Bullock embodies this in the role of a lifetime by constantly allowing her character to evolve. At first she is a rookie medical engineer on her first space mission, then a terrified individual with a tragic past, before learning to tap into the essence of the human spirit. Bullock has come a long way from driving a bus in Speed to sidelining (excuse the pun) the competition in her Oscar winning The Blind Side, to flying an entire space station in this film. THIS is Sandra Bullock at her finest and every iota of her portrayal demands another Academy Award nomination. Close behind but with less screen time is Clooney. Equipped with witticisms and pep, Clooney is exactly what you would expect from an actor-director with a thoroughbred resume.

For most of us, Gravity is the closest we will ever get to feeling what it must be like in space. This is Cuarón’s gift to the cinema industry and the discerning audience alike. Having co-scripted the film with his son, Cuarón’s greatest achievement in this film is the technical nuance that has gone into its making. Cinematography is literally out of this world with some of the most spectacular vistas of Earth. There are scenes where the lens shifts from infinite space to within an inch of Ryan’s face – a seamless juxtaposition of the vastness of space with claustrophobia. Sound design accentuated by Steven Price’s original score is another contrast between surreal imagery and the eerie loneliness of space. These are not just effects in the conventional sense but a profound manner of grafting special effects with the character’s emotions and the darkening atmosphere of the narrative; all in 3D that is not only immersive but in a way that becomes the skeletal binding of the story. Phenomenal!

As an only perceivable flaw, Gravity can seem preachy at times, underscored by slim propaganda that says something about the selfless courage of the elite – men and women who risk life and limb for the greater good of humanity. Then again, such was the message in last year’s Academy Award Best Picture Argo. At the time of writing this review, awards season 2014 is still a few months away. But from where I was seated, I am looking at no less than nominations for sound design, visual effects, cinematography, best leading actress, directing and quite possibly, Best Motion Picture. And then some.

Rating: ★★★★★


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.