Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Film Review: Gravity

Words: Charles Hay

To get straight to the point: this film ought to change Science Fiction in cinema and television. It left me breathless. It left me in awe, and in deep thought. It gave me a sense of physicality and reality regarding space and the operations there that no film has ever given me. It gave me a buzz about the possibilities of storytelling in the future.

The conceit is relatively simple. An astronaut has a truly, utterly dreadful few hours. The Russians blat one of their own satellites, causing a cloud of disastrously speedy shrapnel to career towards said astronaut's shuttle. This could have led to a regular disaster-flick, albeit a particularly interesting one, but for a few important points.

The visuals of this film are utterly breathtaking. Space has genuinely never been presented with such aplomb as this. The Earth is almost overwhelming in its enormity, solidity and beauty. The stars and the black veil of space are an endless vertiginous infinity, as anxiety inducing as the inexorable Earth. The space-stations, orbiters, capsules etc are real. There is no other way to describe them. They are there. In space. At no point do you question this. All this is lent even greater depth (deep deep deep oh god my stomach) with revelatory 3D treatment. No film has so far used 3D as effectively as this. Some of you are grimacing slightly. Don't. This is the proof of concept that will blow the endless gulch of CG blockbusters into obsolescence.

The soundscape of this film, too, is exceptional. The musical score keeps nerves jangling whilst the authenticity of the muffled sounds almost felt through space suits or the roaring of formless freefall fires gave me goosebumps. Interestingly, I definitely felt that the lack of sound in space added to, rather than detracted from the tension and adrenaline when the proverbial hit the extractor, and makes the gradual inclusion during one particlarly mind-melting sequence all the more effective.

This film could be summed up, accurately, if reductively, as 'humans battling physics'. This leads me to my next point. The action in this film is almost entirely based around the struggle to be human in a weightless, airless environment, and simply would not have worked so well if it wasn't for the utterly exhaustive attitude the film-makers have taken to detail. Many action films focus around the hero shrugging off reality and awesome-ing their way to justice. Gravity focuses on the hero entirely understanding reality and using guile and tenacity to survive it. I cannot quite fully express how refreshing this is. The environment is solid and unyielding, impervious to deus ex machina. Physics (odd to have to mention this, but given the track record of film, it seems necessary) is consistent throughout. Take note, uh, everyone.

Finally, I will say something very seldom said of films like Gravity. The characterisation here is wonderful. Sandra Bullock portrays humanity here with more subtlety, grace and panache than so many tumultuous dramas or navel gazing indie character sessions. There is earnestness and universality to this performance which should inform not just Science Fiction, not just Action or Thriller films, but all films. This is how you make people connect, right here. Not overwrought arguments or Shakespearean soliloquising. Not Ancient Greek vengeance fantasy or world changing righteousness. You do it through honest appraisal of humanity under pressure. You do it by acknowledging characters not as a chess piece moving through peril, but as an entire chess board, playing against itself, endlessly battling its own configurations.

Gravity deserves acclaim as a triumph of vision and creation. It is a tantalising glimpse of what could be produced through hi-tech storytelling once Hollywood finally calms down from its multibillion dollar onanising OTT CG mission.

Put simply: Gravity is a classic.

Oxford Road Rating:

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