It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me, that I’m starting to grade certain films for their “event” factor. I believe I first began to realize this when I was reflecting on 2012’s “Life of Pi”. It’s a pretty terrific film, but does it stand up to the test of time? Well, I was initially ready to place it in my annual Top Ten of the year, and ended up putting it just outside of it. Why? I decided that the 3D factor had swayed me just a bit, as it was easily the best use of that format that I had ever witnessed. I kept telling people that it would be criminal to not see it with the plastic glasses on. Then this past summer, I pretty much acknowledged that “Pacific Rim” was Guillermo del Toro’s weakest feature. But I still managed to give it a grade of ‘B’ anyway, because seeing it in IMAX and 3D was a pretty awesome summer sit. Fair or not, certain releases are becoming screen and format specific, and I promise to attempt to separate the quality from the quantity now—and in the future. Which brings us to Alfonso Cuaron’s(the masterful “Children of Men”)”Gravity”. How could anyone even think of not experiencing this feature in IMAX 3D? In fact, I even considered driving 15 extra miles, to a theater that I knew housed a bigger IMAX screen, than the multiplex I ended up purchasing my ticket at. They’ve hooked us pretty good, haven’t they, and of course it’s always a few dollars more. So, was “Gravity” worth the extra bucks for the maximum bang. Oh, I think so, yeah. It is a great experience. But is it a great film?
The plot is very simple. Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski(Cary Grant-in space, George Clooney)and bio-medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone(Sandra Bullock, having a huge year and in fine form)are in the middle of a shuttle mission spacewalk to repair the Hubble Telescope. There is one other member of the crew outside the shuttle with them, and a small crew inside the spaceship. Kowalski and Stone abruptly receive word that a debris field(from a Russian satellite space test)is heading their way. At first, Houston’s Mission Control believes it will miss them, but then they are alerted to abort their outer space activities immediately, for it is coming directly towards them. However, the debris surrounds and engulfs them before they can return to the craft. The crew is killed and the shuttle is heavily damaged—leaving Kowalski and Stone drifting in space. Kowalski manages to make his way to Stone via his thruster pack, therefore saving her from an eternal drift. After making their way back to the shuttle, they find it mostly destroyed and unusable. Kowalski then makes the decision that they should tether together, and with the use of Matt’s thruster, make their way to the International Space Station some 60 miles away. But with limited oxygen, and only 90 minutes or so until the debris field orbits Earth and comes at them once more, can they possibly hope to make it.
“Gravity” in IMAX 3D is an absolute knockout. The look, the effects, the sound—everything is state-of-the-art, and of the highest order. The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki is astonishing, and I don’t think it’s too soon to forecast a number of technical victories for this film come Oscar time. It’s honestly breathtaking, and a marvelous achievement. Alas, it does fall short of being a truly excellent film. First, there’s some simple-minded pop psychology nonsense(that’s used as a motivator for Bullock’s character at one juncture), that is rather cheesily written and seems totally unnecessary(you’ll know it when you hear it, and I expect some to disagree). Next, for a film that has been compared favorably to Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, as well as Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 “Solaris”(of course, Clooney starred in Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake of that film), it’s awfully thin philosophically. So, it’s a wowser as far as spectacle goes, but “2001” and “Solaris” cut far deeper. The acting is more than solid, and I expect Bullock to rack up another Oscar nomination given her constant screen time, and the juggling of delicate emotional reactions along with unfathomable hours against a blue screen for the effects work. Cuaron’s script(written with his son Jonas)is really nothing more than serviceable. But, again, this must be seen for the experience alone. It’s unforgettable. You may even want to visit more than once. There is, at least, one shot of Sandra Bullock that is direct homage to “2001”—that is beautiful and lyrical in its simplicity. And the final image of the film contained an unexpected power for me. “Primordial ooze and creation” is all I’ll say, in an attempt to avoid spoilers. It’s a haunting denouement. “Gravity” the Event is an A+ experience. “Gravity” as a film, doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights—but it’s still unmissable. Don’t make the mistake of waiting for DVD, where I’m certain the strength of the piece will be greatly diminished. Grade: A-