In space no one can hear you cry out in terror. They can't hear you scream in pain, or weep at the loss of a friend or loved one. Space is quiet and cold and empty, and to be honest I've never really grasped those truths about space except in an abstract way. Until watching this movie.
That's probably because in Hollywood, space rumbles. You can hear the rockets engage and burn with brilliant jets of blue or red flame. It gives you a sense of movement and weight. Because sound is something we need to use to reconcile what we see versus what we understand. For example; you see a crowd of people start to react to something, and a moment later you hear the sound and react with them. It's a part of our nature.
What happens when you can't hear what's coming? What if you are doing everything in your power, with the chips stacked against you, to simply open a door? (Or in this case, a hatch?) How can something like that be so harrowing, that you are literally on the edge of your seat?
Well, that's exactly what Gravity accomplished. It took simple actions, and things we take for granted, and turned them on their ear.
To elaborate; the only sounds in this movie are done through radio, and muffled through Ryan Stone's (Sandra Bullock) space suit. You can hear impacts, and breathing, and static and that's it. Except for the score, which never distracts from the experience. It is a remarkable thing to watch something get destroyed and not hear it happen. It's disconcerting and totally feeds into the tension. This film doesn't rely on tricks or jump scares. This is the kind of film that drops your stomach to your feet and makes you grip the arm rests for ninety minutes.
I believe this is Sandra Bullock's best work. She gives a nuanced and powerful portrayal of a woman in totally over her head, and who fights with everything she has to survive. George Clooney is also kind of perfect in his role as the seasoned astronaut whose calm, gravelly voice evens out the chaotic events happening around him. He's the hero archetype, and yet his character is so true that you believe he's real from nearly his first line. However, the real hero of this movie is the director, Alfonso Cuarón. He has crafted a masterpiece of tension and character that totally blew me away.
This is an utterly gorgeous movie, and I don't say that lightly. Every shot is perfectly framed, and the scope is stunning. The visual effects are incredibly realistic, to the point where it's difficult to tell where the real sets end and the effects begin. It's also a remarkably simple movie. There's no complex plot to figure out, nor are there monsters or laser guns. It is a very different kind of science fiction. The kind based on what could really happen, where reality and fiction merge in a way that is truly frightening.
I don't know if this is the best movie of the year, but it comes close. It also may not be for everyone. This film is stark and real, and occasionally difficult to watch. But it's excellent on every level. Oh, and I usually don't advocate 3D, but in this case it was totally worth the extra price of admission.
4 out of 4 Space Suits
J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.