As a cinematic experience, Gravity is so good that you’ll be willing to forgive Hollywood for its largely fruitless, lazy love affair with 3D. Like Life of Pi and a tiny number of similarly worthy releases, it genuinely deserves to be seen on the big screen and with those annoying glasses perched on your nose. The visuals and audio are masterfully managed, putting the audience in the shoes of stranded astronauts in disastrous circumstances, and it’s the kind of thing that the early pioneers of the medium would have expected to see made possible by 2013.
Unfortunately, as technically superb as it is, Gravity suffers from cumbersome dialogue and generic characterisation. It’s a blessing that, with oxygen in short supply 372 miles above the Earth’s surface, the jabbering is kept to a minimum.
The film opens with rookie spacewalker Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) working on the Hubble Space Telescope with experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) puttering about in the background. It’s Kowalski’s last mission before retirement, which never bodes well for a character in a blockbuster.
Debris from a downed Russian satellite interrupts their work and Dr. Stone is cast adrift, pinwheeling into the frigid vacuum of space with a dwindling air supply and no contact with Mission Control, as satellites topple like dominoes to the shearing force of the wreckage.
Director Alfons Cuaron expertly captures the mixture of grace and helplessness that comes with moving through a low gravity environment, as well as using sound to great effect and often taking a first-person perspective, allowing the audience to experience some of the most dramatic moments from Dr. Stone’s viewpoint in a way that’s utterly compelling and unequalled in any other space saga.
It’s the clichéd persona of Kowalski, with his love of classic cars, country music and meandering storytelling, which marginally sullies the movie. Dr. Stone’s equally unimaginative back story doesn’t do much to distinguish her as a memorable character, but is unobtrusive enough to help convey a few trite points about human endeavour.
If you don’t see Gravity on the big screen and in 3D, you’ll be missing the year’s only genuinely essential release. The cardboard characters don’t come close to putting a dent in its gleaming, solar panel-clad hull.