It is the boldest presence, right now, in the cinematic solar system. It has drawn millions of objects and entities to its gravitational sphere. Public, critics, “experts”; space trivia, spin-off merchandise, production gossip. Box office records have been broken, sci-fi superlatives smithereened. So it seems unkind, even impertinent, to propose that Gravity’s main feature is – well – weightlessness.
Let’s play fair. That is partly what this sublime and ridiculous space opera is about: gravity (or a safe mooring in earthly/cosmic existence) versus its loss. Up there above the Earth, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney get detached from their shuttle when it explodes during a “routine” repairs walk. Set adrift, they experience super-panic. They’re dead meat in spacesuits, aren’t they? “Life in space is impossible,” the film’s opening caption has told us. Together they might make a survival fight. But what if one perishes first . . . ?
No spoilers. You may not want either to die, anyway, in a cast of two. Bullock gives us a calamity dame for a crisis, bravery battling adversity, hysteria and a fitfully firing backstory about a dead daughter. Clooney is a Clooneyesque blend of gritty adventure machismo and Cary Grant in space. “Beautiful, don’t you think, the sunrise,” he patters before the disaster. After it, bantering more darkly: “I hate space . . . ” These two are stellar Hollywoodites, flung into another, different star system.
If it’s hokum – this derring-do double act gone interdimensional – hokum does look and sound better when it’s thrown around. Director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón, a space novice self-launched after a career in terrestrial drama and fantasy (Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), brings an innocent’s freshness to the genre. The 3D is most brilliantly unnerving when most seemingly trivial. The weightless hazard-objects that float past our faces in cabins – a torch, fork, spanner – mimic and prefigure the bigger bric-a-brac to come. It’s “ouch” when we’re struck by small item. It’s another “ouch” when we’re struck by rocks or a Russian space station. It’s the biggest “ouch” – the third of three story-launch stages – when we’re struck by the seemingly impossible, when the “unreal” starts to happen as if it is real.
Gravity wants to propose something more miraculous than Superman’s “You’ll believe a man can fly”. You’ll believe a man or woman, cast away in space, can stop flying and return home to gravity and blessed Earth. Or die trying. It’s a bumpy trip, with two voyagers carrying, some will argue, excess charisma baggage. But it’s a trip no space spectacle fan should miss.