My buddy Josh kept whispering that in the darkened movie theater as we watched the action unfold before us. Onscreen, astronauts floated through space and made conversation while clouds spun hundreds of miles below and stars winked above like spilled sugar. He, my wife and I watched, transfixed.
No joke: I felt like I was floating with them. At the very least, I wanted to. Even when – as it usually happens in movies set in space – everything starts to go horribly wrong.
This movie was “Gravity,” which just opened Oct. 4. And I use the term “movie” loosely. This 90-minute trek into space was an endurance test, an attempt to boost sales for blood pressure medications. And it’s beautifully crafted.
The film’s premise is nail-biting enough. A crew of astronauts, headed by Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are doing some routine maintenance work on the Hubble Telescope when they get a warning from Earth. A missile strike – thanks a lot, Russians – has turned a satellite into a vengeful gang of jagged, drive-by destruction, one that’s whipping through the atmosphere at top speed.
Yup, they’re in missile cloud’s flight path.
Yup, they get hit. Pummeled, rather.Think about pushing a lawnmower over a field of pebbles and what would happen if there were several large plate glass windows running parallel to the mower’s path. Now times that by 1,000 and put the projectiles in space.
Stone and Kowalski are thrown into the darkness and have to fight their back way through the void, all in hopes of reaching some kind of salvation; really anything that serves to get them out of the sky in one piece before the bloodthirsty debris field returns for a second helping.
My “thumbs up” for the film does not stem from the story itself. I mean, yes, that treatment is amazing. But like anything, what matters is how you do something.
In this case, they did it the right way. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron is reverent in his treatment of space. That much is clear from the film’s opening when he gives a breakdown of the temperature, isolation and silence the big star-freckled maw offers. It almost feels like a love letter to a textbook danger zone where physics is on a constant bender.
“It’s beautiful up here,” Cuaron seems to say. “But tigers are beautiful, too. Poison arrow frogs. Lightning storms. Handle with care.”
The camerawork supplements it. Some shots last for minutes without cutting, following the characters as they propel themselves through the weightless environment. The main performance only strengthens the story. Sandra Bullock embodies a smart, capable individual who goes toe to toe with fear and self-doubt while she tries like hell to just not float away.
Prediction: This is going to, at the very least, be nominated for several Oscars, and I think it’s probably a slam dunk for visual effects, likely for directing.
So, for the skeptical, “Gravity” really is tremendous. Just maybe smuggle some muscle relaxants/tranquilizers/codeine in with you.
And get ready to say, “Holy crap.”