Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
A “cinematic experience” is something you’ll only experience a few times during your life. A trip to the flicks that doesn’t revolve around chewing on salted popcorn and leaving with the sense that you’ve been fleeced for your hard earned. A cinematic experience is that moment when you go to the pictures and the film you see has a profound effect on you personally whether you are scared, shocked or amazed. For me I’ve had several; when I saw that guy in Jurassic Park: The Lost World get torn apart by the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the opening battle sequence of The Fellowship of the Ring, The sheer horror of Paranormal Activity and James Cameron’s use of 3D in Avatar… This week I turned 23 and I’m happy to say Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is now part of this esteemed collection.
To say the film features box- office mega stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock the star of the show here is Cuarón and his use of VFX. The opening shot begins staring down at Earth in all its majestic beauty. Then out of the distance a spaceship carrying three crew members creeps towards the screen. The space craft is upside down and as we approach the vessel our perspective is slowly turned on an axis. Your sense of “what is up” and “what is down” is from that second distorted. From that second on you truly understand the extraordinary phenomenon that it is for human beings to live and operate outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.
It doesn’t need to be said for a true film fan that the only way to watch this film is in IMAX. The camera work is beyond stunning. I have neither the aptitude nor ambition to ever go into space (not even if Richard Branson was to offer me a free ticket) and now I don’t need to because of Gravity. At no point does it feel like an unrealistic film set in space. Obviously events are exaggerated for the necessity of compelling fiction but this could be a documentary it really is that good visually.
The setting is also a work of genius, to set a disaster movie in space is literally the harshest environment you could ever hope to exist in. There is no oxygen, no atmosphere and temperatures so cold that the slightest exposure to them would render you dead in seconds. Cuarón ramps up the tension by making everything that could go wrong, go wrong. Bullock’s Ryan Stone seems to fall/ float awkwardly towards a series of ever more dangerous scenarios. She has to traverse being cut adrift in open space, violent space debris and exploding space stations in order to reach the small Chinese escape module that can offer her a route home to Earth. Bullock at no point seems like she isn’t up to the task of playing an inexperienced astronaut. It’s also nice that Cuarón gives us a female hero that is neither belittled by the male protagonists within the narrative nor sexed up as a bit of eye candy. Bullock is the film’s main focal point and her ingenuity and patience are what help her survive the mounting disasters she faces.
Clooney is also good value for money as experienced space walker/ mission leader Matt Kowalski. He is Stone’s main point of reference in space. Ever cool and collected considering that his slightest actions can have serious and fatal consequences for him and Stone at every turn. He is set up as the sort of “experienced cop on his last day on duty that has to face his biggest challenge” and maybe we could even call him cliché. If he was the main character of the film then there would be cause to criticise Cuarón but as a supporting figure he is fantastic. Just when you think Stone is doomed his sultry tones wander out across the communication frequencies to offer her aid… even when she’s asleep.
There is nowhere you can pick fault with this film it really is quite exquisite. During its run time I was constantly on edge and I was not allowed to relax my mental state until the credits smashed home. Very rarely does a film grip my attention so rigorously and make me forget what world I’m in. I firmly believe that Gravity is the finest piece of IMAX film making there has ever been. Whether you’re drifting among the stars or plummeting towards Earth in a fiery space capsule you’ll feel inches from the action. Never has the barrier between fiction and reality felt so narrow. Never before have the stars truly become attainable for us. Neil Armstrong said in 1969 that it was “One small step for man, a giant leap for mankind” and even if those first Moon shots were filmed by Stanley Kubrick in a Hollywood basement this is now irrelevant. Like I said before you’ll never have to worry about going to space because if you want to you can go to your local multiplex and take the hair- raising trip from the comfort of your own seat.
Cinematic experiences are those rare moments where you forget yourself and become truly immersed in what you’re watching. The initial viewing of said film/s will be the only one in which you can reach that emotional point but you’ll treasure the time you saw it first.
To summarise James Cameron recently said that Gravity is “the best film ever set in space” and he couldn’t be more right… so I’ll leave you with that.