Writer-director, Alfonso Cuarón, has always wanted to be two things: a director and an astronaut. These lifelong dreams meshed somewhere along the way to become his magnum opus, Gravity, a breathtakingly beautiful, mesmerising, visceral and moving space film about a medical engineer and an astronaut, who work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
The film was previously on ice owing to the fact that Cuarón's vision required technology that only surfaced in James Cameron's Avatar in 2009. Cameron, a friend of Cuarón, described Gravity as "the best space film ever done" and also compared Bullock's physical performance to that of a "Cirque du Soleil performer".
Bullock took six months of physical training to prepare for the role of Dr. Ryan Stone, mapping out each scene with Cuarón and giving special attention to Stone's breathing patterns. As a special crew member with limited experience and training, she's most vulnerable - giving the audience a chance to share and journey with her point-of-view. Her hard work pays off in a performance that seems anxious, elegant and spontaneous - a testament to her acting and the script. Her understated beauty helps make her character attractive, yet human.
Clooney's role in Solaris adds another dimension to his calm-and-charming-under-pressure performance as Kowalski. Gravity is a story from Stone's perspective and Clooney knows this is more Bullock's film than his. While playful at first, Clooney's performance has a depth of peace and spirit, taking charge of the situation with unfaltering heroics. Ed Harris voices mission control, echoing his work in The Abyss and Apollo 13.
The special effects are mesmerising to the point that Gravity probably couldn't have been filmed better if it was shot in space. Every detail and environmental aspect has been finely tuned to give you a sense of weightlessness with a fluid and unhinged camera relaying it all. The 3D is fantastic for slowly hurtling and suspended objects, which is probably why James Cameron wants to go underwater with the sequel to Avatar.
Gravity blends elements from films like Life of Pi, Touching the Void and Space Station 3D. Life of Pi was also a spectacular, philosophical-to-religious experience about human nature and survival. Touching the Void's powerful true story, deep focus on two characters, extreme circumstances and docudrama realism also resonate strongly with Gravity. Then to top it off, Gravity delivers realistic and awe-inspiring visuals to match the vicarious and accurate IMAX documentary, Space Station 3D.
Cuarón's main theme is 'rebirth after adversity'. It's a powerful message - one that is beautifully constructed with deeply symbolic imagery. The director has full control over every aspect of the digital space environment, giving him god-like power to bring his creation to life. It's a deftly balanced film and his only variables are Bullock and Clooney, whose performances are neither overpowering nor overshadowed.
The opening sequence echoes some of his work in Children of Men, creating what seems like a single shot to set the scene, adjust our sense of proportion, create a suspended reality and set the story in motion. As the tiny blip transforms into a richly detailed space shuttle, we're immediately sucked into the vacuum and breathtaking majesty of Gravity.
Part allegorical meditation, part character portrait drama and part deep space thriller, Gravity is a rare and beautifully realised film that transcends the celluloid with a timeless quality. While the spectacle is enthralling and even gut-wrenching at times, we never lose sight of the touching human story at its core. Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a film to cherish, one that will amaze, inspire and leave you breathless... only too relieved to feel the ground beneath your feet and air in your lungs.
The bottom line: Masterpiece