I’ve seen Gravity earlier this week, but as my initial thoughts on viewing it were a bit shaky at best, I thought that I should give it a second shot. Similar to what I thought of Prometheus at first, I thought I should watch it a second time, this time as a detached observer. If the first viewing is the experience of it, the second viewing, I believe, should be the more critical viewing, as I won’t be subjected to the suspense of figuring who’ll live or die in this film and just focus on how well the film was made, how the issues and themes were handled, etc. And so, after a second round with Cuaron’s Gravity (again seen on IMAX), does this film deserve all the praise and recognition given to it by mainstream critics out there? Or is it another example of a film heavily hyped by the mainstream media?
The answer really depends on what you’re expecting with this. If you’re looking for in-your-face 3D effects, this film isn’t for you. If you’re expecting a thriller with slow-burn paced tension, then this may be for you. If you’re looking for a by-the-numbers Hollywood thriller, then this film again MAY BE for you. Like I said, the answer as to whether this is THE FILM of 2013 depends on one’s expectations for it. As such, let us begin, as usual, with The Good followed by The Bad.
I am a huge fan of horror/thriller-type films as well as speculative fiction because, despite their unrealistic portrayal of events in the real world, speculative fiction (if done well) can say something more about the human condition than most realistic fiction out there. Even if Gravity plays around the grey area of science fiction and science fact, this film is science-fiction by virtue of being set in space. In this case, it’s a typical survival film. An accident happens during a routine repair mission in space and astronauts Stone and Kowalski must do everything they can to survive. It’s as simple as that; it’s a survival story and the characters’ resolve to live is tested through the obstacles they encounter.
“Wait a minute, Evil Dr. Bok,” I hear you lowly minions scream, “It sounds like a typical Hollywood story to me. How is that supposed to be a good thing?” Well, for one, it wasn’t distracting. It wasn’t trying to make ultra profound statements about the nature of human existence, but the story works. It’s about survival; it couldn’t get any more complex than that. Those looking for a profound philosophical treatise reminiscent of 2001 A Space Odyssey (or the more pretentious and heavy handed musings of the vastly overrated/deservedly hated Prometheus) might be a bit disappointed, but at least director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron knew which aspect of humanity to explore on even in broad strokes. That, I believe, is an achievement in the scripting, the direction, and the editing of the film.
Speaking of direction, to be able to make a 90 minute film with only two main characters engaging is an achievement. Granted, there are some who might say that the opening (or the part after the initial action, or any part where the script gets talky) gets dragging a little bit, but considering what Cuaron is telling us about survival, I’m guessing this is a bit of a compromise. Other than that, the action sequences are masterfully done (shot in what now seems to be Cuaron’s trademark long-takes), and the scenes in space are among the most terrifyingly tense scenes I’ve seen in a while.
I’d also want to mention that score and the sound design. Aiming for a more realistic approach to depicting scenes in space, Cuaron decided to opt for a complete silence (more or less). There are no explosions in space, no Michael Bay type explosions once the space debris obliterate space stations, shuttles, and satellites, just the intense score by Steven Price, and a sound design consisting of the actor and actress’s voice through a microphone filter, beeping alarms, and decompression processes. Come Oscar Night, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film wins Best Score or Sound Design/Editing.
Upon initial viewing, I told my friends and colleagues that one must watch Gravity in 3D, or IMAX if possible, as the 3D effects make for a pretty effective way to raise the tension due to movement. The unearthly camera movements make one feel uneasy, especially in the first 15 minutes of the film. While this isn’t a problem for me, I’m placing this here because some people might not appreciate the effect. One of the viewers exclaimed, “I feel sick”, and I can understand his feeling: the camera movements (at least for the space-walk scenes) may cause motion sickness to some viewers, and this ultimately could detract from the experience. I say “may” because, even if this didn’t affect me as much, other viewers might not appreciate it.
Additionally, while the 3D effects were interesting upon preliminary viewing, having seen it a second I realized that maybe the recommendation to see it in 3D might not be the best, but rather to see it in a LARGE screen. The 3D isn’t quite in your face (except for a few gimmicky moments of debris flying at you); at times you might not even realize it. Avatar and Transformers 3D still remain my benchmark for good 3D.
I’ve always mentioned when talking to other people that while there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, there are films which come pretty close. Gravity isn’t exactly one of those; I admit that there are portions that drag on a bit, and the 3D may cause motion sickness to some viewers of the audience. However, story and scriptwise, the film still works. Film-making wise, Cuaron shows that he’s really someone to look out for in the future with his visual panaches. This film may not be for every body, but for those looking for serious science-fiction film along the veins of 2001 and Moon, Gravity is highly recommended.