‘Gravity’ review: A stunning, literally cinematic masterpiece

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'Gravity' review: Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in Gravity
Sandra Bullock (Ryan Stone) and George Clooney (Matt Kowalski) in Gravity

Movie synopsis

Two astronauts work together to survive when an accident leaves their crew dead and them stranded in deep space with no help forthcoming, and impossible odds of survival.

Gravity review in a nutshell

A gorgeously rendered, heart-pounding thriller about surviving in the endless void of space.

Would I recommend you watch it?

Absolutely. Unless you have either agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) or claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces). Or dreams of being an astronaut. Then you should ABORT. ABORT MISSION. GET OUT OF HERE.

Click here to jump to the bottom for where you can watch Gravity.

Otherwise, continue reading for a full review.

Full review of Gravity (with little to no spoilers)

Very few movies nowadays truly deserve the title “cinematic masterpiece”; but Gravity is one of them. You have to go to the cinema to view it to appreciate just how much of a masterpiece it is, and you have to watch it in 3D — preferably in IMAX, but definitely in 3D. (And I’m speaking as someone who hates watching things in 3D.) Watching it in any other form — on TV, on your computer; or even worse, your smartphones and tablets — would be to rob yourself of an experience that movies have been trying to build themselves up to since the very beginnings of cinema: To immerse its viewers in an experience so akin to reality you feel you are amongst the characters on screen in that very moment.

(Edit: Sadly, watching Gravity in cinemas now is no longer an option since it’s finished its theatrical run, so you’ll have to settle for watching it at home.)

The moment the film begins, you are thrust into such an endless, infinite void of space that you are already on tenterhooks as to when the seminal catastrophe will happen, if you went into the movie with some knowledge of what it’s about. There is no ground to be tethered to, no safety found anywhere; just endless floating around, away from earth, life, and home. And it goes on like this for almost all of its 91 minutes. If you have agoraphobia, you might want to skip this movie.

You feel as though you are almost floating alongside the astronauts in space. The disorientation is so strong, you are lost yourself. Debris comes hurling towards you and you blink. You are bumping, rolling, roiling along with the astronauts at parts, wondering how they even hang on. Meanwhile, you (or they, rather) are also on collision course with any space junk that the fates throw their way, which happens more hair-raising times than I care to repeat. If I ever had dreams of becoming an astronaut (which I never did), they would have been irrevocably damaged by this movie. The experience is literally out-of-this-world, but you die so alone, if you die.

Still, while part of it is about “in space, no one can hear you scream”, that’s not the point of this movie. It’s about the character journey of a woman who is dead inside, going through adversity, so much of it, and being reborn again. So many motifs of birth are littered across the movie: Sandra Bullock curling up slowly in a fetal position after shedding off her suit in the International Space Station; her emerging out of the water; hugging the ground; learning to walk again.

In terms of cinematic art, it is on par with 2001: A Space Odyssey. In terms of effect, it will likely do the same in inspiring a whole new generation of filmmakers. It is so, so stunning. Visuals, performances, themes, everything, the feat itself of making this movie. It’s one of those movies where you cannot stop wondering, even as you’re watching it: how *did* they even make it? They have somehow simulated space and zero gravity without being in space themselves. And what is amazing is that they managed to make it for only US$80 million, as compared to the US$200 million CGI-heavy blockbusters that come out every summer; yet it looks ten times more beautiful — not that I’m discounting the visual effects artists of the other movies, but it’s the truth.

Even after watching this featurette, I still have a hard time figuring out how they did it, and did it for only US$80 million. ?

I was particularly impressed by two shots; three, if you count the fetal shot mentioned above. One is a long tracking shot — a trademark of the director, Alfonso Cuarón — where first, you’re watching everything from a distance. Then Sandra Bullock’s character starts spinning around, and slowly you lock into her, keep getting closer, and then start rolling with her. The camera keeps going in, until you actually go through the visor, and then the camera turns into her point of view. At this point I felt claustrophobic and afraid that she’ll run out of oxygen, because of the way her breath just kept fogging up the glass.

The other is when she was tearing up, and you see the tears well up in her eyes, and leave her face *one by one* and float through the air. That was sublime.

Gravity review: Sandra Bullock in Gravity
I don’t have enough words to describe my wonder.

Sandra Bullock is beyond incredible in this film. Forget about her Best Actress win for The Blind Side in 2010; her performance here blows that out of the water. Quiet, powerful, and so so human, you feel her fear, her grief, her hopelessness, her newfound hope, her joy at being alive — and all these from just her face, her tone, and her breath. Her voice is quiet and modulated most of the time she speaks, but you can hear her emotions as clearly as if she was shouting them, even when she’s a speck in the distance. And she did all this while apparently suffering through strenuous and precisely timed acrobatics in harnesses and rigging in order to get her body in the right position and the lighting to hit her face *just right*, to mimic the reflection of light from whichever part of the Earth they were floating above at each moment, for the cameras to capture and then superimpose into the CGI of their bodies.

I’ll be astounded if this does not get a nomination for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and Visual Effects as well (update: It did, and won all the technical awards as well as Best Director!). Of all the nominees this year, it will be the film that is remembered for decades to come, whether it wins or not. Alfonso Cuarón and his son Jonas spent four years making this film, but it feels more like one of those magnum opuses that take a lifetime to realise. I haven’t been properly awed by a movie — not just entertained, but plunged into the realm of wonder — since… I can’t remember.

This movie is just phenomenal. Go watch it now.

Where to watch Gravity

Streaming services: Gravity is on Netflix Singapore, but not Netflix US, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

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