Alfonso Cuaron's space odyssey is a visionary breakthrough for 3D, cinematography and modern storytelling- our release day verdict.
Space- the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission...apologies, I'm recalling the wrong film.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far...sorry, wrong film again. Funny, how easy it can be to get such matters mixed up these days, eh?
With Gravity, Alfonso Cuaron enters a genre of cinema which has become all but determined by the clichés and tropes that litter its past greats. In 2013, to some film-makers the likelihood of succumbing to these preconceptions of motion pictures which venture beyond our planet's spherical confines could seem all but inevitable, a challenge so futile that it barely warrants consideration. For Cuaron, though, the challenge is a mere stepping stone, a foundation on which he can and does build a consistently groundbreaking visual and narrative masterpiece.
The latter component in particular is a notably difficult element for any creator of a blockbuster to tackle at this stage of the industry's development. Indeed, arguably as a result of the familiarity the audience has with its genre and the industry's greatest offerings in general, this piece's central plot twists are neither unique nor unprecedented. How Cuaron sidesteps any potential dissatisfaction that this underlying layer of deja vu might provoke is by structuring the flick in such a manner that greatly defies our expectations of narrative momentum and progression, an initial dramatically shattering moment at the conclusion of its first act leading into one of the most compelling, subversive viewing experiences that the box office has offered up this year.
Devoid of an accomplished lead star, the intensely captivating storyline would be done a great disservice in not attaining its full potential. Sandra Bullock has already more than proved her mettle in productions such as The Blind Side, though, and she enters her most triumphant performance yet here. Though we mustn't neglect George Clooney's equally noteworthy portrayal as Matt Kowalski, for Clooney shines so boldly as to threaten to steal the limelight in each of his appearances, and there may be one or two instances where we question the human accuracy of her inconsistent sparks of confidence, Bullock's Rayana Stone is the film's key focus and she's as intricately crafted a construct (thanks to Cuaron's spellbinding screenplay and Bullock's contribution) as any of the genre's great icons.
As rare as it is in 2013, Gravity's exemplary implementation of 3D technology is one of its finest strengths by far. Interwoven with Cuaron's visually splendid cinematography, it bestows the cinema auditorium with a near-tangible, pseudo-physical extra dimension, the likes of which hasn't been glimpsed fully since 2009's Avatar. Whether it's in the broader setpieces of the production involving oncoming debris colliding with and wrecking the satellite stations between which Stone traverses, or in the more involved, individual instances of Stone exploring the hollow, silent innards of those same space stations, the realisation of the extremely involved relationship between the viewer, the camera and the on-screen events of the piece is spectacular.
That aforementioned relationship formed and developed over the course of the film's conservative 90 minute running time is the intrinsic factor of its success. Not since Les Miserables launched in January has a motion picture been so relentlessly dedicated to ensuring that its viewer never finds himself or herself detached from the emotionally charged storyline, never leaving them to flail and dangle helplessly as Stone does in a void of sub-par characterisations or overexaggerated blockbuster setpieces. Few films can claim even in scenes of pure silence to match the astounding compulsion that Cuaron strikes for his audience, and this reviewer would speculate that few motion pictures in the near future will do so again.
For this is the true beauty of Gravity, beyond its aesthetic finesse, the likes of which alone has scarcely been matched in the history of cinema- its scribe, its director and its leads take the foundations of the clichés and tropes which have so long defined this genre, utilises their finest implications to their fullest potential and then turns their lamented restrictions of space preconceptions on their head. Far from searching the frosty, soundless depths of space for a 'new' meaning of genre narrative, Cuaron 'simply' takes what we thought we knew of human experience, human futility outside of our world and ultimately human endurance, and with these elements he tells a story in the most fascinating and innovative way, to the extent that Gravity can't fail to be considered as one of 2013's greatest films by a phenomenal margin.