Cinema fans rejoice. Gravity is my favorite film of 2013, one of your favorite films of 2013, and one of the critics' favorite films of 2013. I think it's also safe to say that Gravity is also now one of my favorite films in recent years. Alfonso Cuaron deserves one hell of a round of applause. This movie is incredible. Words can't explain the amazement.
Gravity is a sci-fi outer space techno-thriller directed by Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men helmer Alfonso Cuaron, who co-wrote Gravity's script with his son, Jonas Cuaron. This film was in development since 2010. It was to star Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr. as the lead roles. However, Jolie dropped out to direct In the Land of Blood and Honey, which was a great film. Multiple actresses then auditioned for the female lead role, like Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Marion Cotillard, and Natalie Portman. Sandra Bullock was then chosen for the role. Robert Downey, Jr. dropped out to do Iron Man 2, Due Date, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Marvel's The Avengers, and Iron Man 3, so he was replaced by Danny Ocean himself, George Clooney.
Filmed digitally on a budget of exactly $100 million, which was a bit lower than the usual 3D/CGI film (The Hobbit, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Avatar, Star Trek), the film was shot by expert cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Father and son Cuaron intended the film to be as scientifically accurate despite a few inaccuracies and exaggerations. For example, in the movie, the explosions and falling debris crashing into things are completely non-audible. Warner Bros. Pictures made the action audible in the trailers to make the movie appear more exciting. In 2013, Gravity was released in IMAX and Real-D theaters everywhere, in the beginning of slasher icon month.
Gravity involves bio-medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone, played wonderfully by Sandra Bullock, who's on her first space mission. Joining her is to-be-retired veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney. Clooney does a great job playing this character and the dialogue helps Clooney and Bullock's performances. It amazes me...in the GOOD way. I really like the opening shot of this film and how it lasts for like fifteen-or-so minutes. What kept me invested was Alfonso Cuaron's brilliant direction and Emmanuel Lubezki's beautiful cinematography. Lubezki's cinematography beats out Larry Smith's cinematography for Only God Forgives. Oh, yeah. I went there, motherfuckers.
So, as Ryan, Matt, and the other members of the crew of the spaceship Explorer get into space, falling satellite debris crashes into the ship during a spacewalk. Let me just talk about the 3D and the special effects for a second. They are stunning. They are just unbelievably gorgeous. The CGI and special effects are absolutely remarkable, quite possibly some of the best I've seen since Avatar. The 3D actually works in this film. I saw this in IMAX 3D yesterday (opening day), and I honest to God felt like I was actually in space. To quote a line Sandra Bullock says in this movie: it's terrifyingly beautiful. I also found it very clever how they got Mission Control to be voiced by Ed Harris, in a reference to another wonderful outer space film: Ron Howard's classic, Apollo 13.
Back to the story, and be warned because there's a shit-ton of spoilers ahead, Stone and Kowalski are now floating in space with a limited amount of air. The debris hits other satellites, causing a chain reaction of destruction until the satellites necessary for them to communicate with Mission Control in Houston are also destroyed. Even though they don't receive messages from Mission Control, both Kowalski and Stone continue to transmit in the blind to Mission Control, in the hopes that Mission Control can hear them.
Stone tumbles out of control after separating from the shuttle's cargo bay arm. Kowalski, who's wearing a thruster pack as part of his spacesuit, navigates to Stone and retrieves her. They tether together, and make their way back to Explorer, where they discover the shuttle has been damaged beyond repair, and the rest of their crew is dead. They then decide to use the thruster pack to make their way to the ISS, which is nearby in orbit. Kowalski sets the timer on his suit for an hour and a half, estimating the debris that destroyed Explorer will orbit the Earth and come back around in that amount of time.
Kowalski's ever calm and efficient in the crisis, continuing to reassure Stone that they'll both make it back to Earth safely. En route to the ISS, they discuss Stone's life back home and the death of her young daughter in a schoolyard accident. As they approach the ISS, it's clear that the ISS crew has evacuated due to the debris field causing damage. One Soyuz module for delivering ISS crew and returning them to Earth is missing, used by the ISS crew to evacuate the station. The other Soyuz module has been damaged, and its landing parachute has been deployed as a result. It becomes clear that the remaining Soyuz module can't return them to Earth safely.
As they approach the ISS they realize they have almost no air left and only one thruster burst remaining in Kowalski's pack. They bounce off the many parts of the ISS as they attempt to grab on at their accelerated speed relative to the station. Stone is able to grab onto the ISS for a moment, however, Kowalski's momentum yanks Stone away from the ISS. As they both bounce off the ISS further, a solar wind they pass severs the tether holding the two together. At the last moment, Stone's leg becomes entangled in parachute cords connected to the Soyuz reentry module, and is able to grab hold of the tether connected to Kowalski. His additional mass stretches the parachute cords entangled to Stone's leg to nearly break free because the damaged ISS is losing altitude and the rarefied air molecules are beginning to exert too much drag on both astronauts. He sacrifices himself for her survival and unclips his strap, floating away.
When Kowalski sacrificed himself to save Ryan's life, I was nearly in tears. This is one of the most emotional scenes I've ever seen in a film. This film handles its emotional grounding superbly. Never was it overdrawn nor was it forced. It was perfect, along with the screenplay. Father and son Cuaron have a supreme amount of talent. It's amazing. So amazing that it can't be put into words.
Back to the plot, Stone indeed floats easily back to the ISS now. Kowalski's still in radio contact with her, asking Stone about her minimal piloting training and instructs Stone to use the Soyuz capsule to travel to the nearby Chinese space station Tiangong by using the small maneuvering rockets to navigate, even though the reentry vehicle itself can't return to earth due to the prematurely deployed parachute. Kowalski says that even if the Chinese have evacuated, she can use the remaining return module that's based on the design of the Soyuz, and Stone's limited training will get her home safely.
Stone boards the ISS, which has been damaged but still has breathable air. Stone makes her way to the Soyuz module, but a fire starts from sparking wires aboard the ISS. She tries vainly to put out the fire, and finally gets aboard the Soyuz. Once aboard, Stone undocks the module and proceeds to fire the thruster, but the parachute cables of the Soyuz are tangled to the ISS, keeping the Soyuz from getting free. Stone puts on one of the Soyuz spacesuits and spacewalks outside to release the parachute cables from the capsule. An hour and a half has passed and during the spacewalk, the satellite debris approaches again, impacting with the ISS and the Soyuz. Stone barely makes it inside the Soyuz in time, just as the debris field impacts and destroys the ISS, but the Soyuz module manages to break free of the ISS.
Stone goes over the emergency manual, and uses the thrusters to line the Soyuz up with Tiangong. She attempts to fire the main Soyuz rocket to navigate to Tiangong; however, the fuel tanks are empty. Stone tries to use the Soyuz radio to contact Earth, but she's only able to reach a farmer who doesn't speak English on a short wave frequency. Stone resigns herself to her fate of dying, and instead of waiting to die from excruciating carbon dioxide poisoning, she slowly begins decompression in the cabin to commit suicide by the painless hypoxia. She begins to fall asleep, running out of oxygen, when she sees Kowalski outside the capsule. Kowalski enters the capsule, to Stone's amazement. Stone tells him that there's no fuel left for the navigation rockets, but Kowalski, ever the optimist, tells Stone that the capsule still has reentry rockets for the touchdown procedure. These will be just as useful for navigating to Tiangong.
Kowalski's suddenly gone and Stone realizes she hallucinated him in her oxygen-deprived state. She turns the oxygen flow back on in the Soyuz and implements the information about the landing thrusters she remembered from her hallucination, firing the thrusters, making her way to Tiangong. Realizing she's gonna miss the station by several dozen meters, Stone picks up a fire extinguisher and opens the Soyuz hatch while the capsule's still pressurized, blowing her across the distance. She navigates to Tiangong using the fire extinguisher as a makeshift thruster. Stone boards Tiangong just as the entire station, having been pushed out of its stable orbit by the satellite debris, starts to burn up on the upper edge of the atmosphere. Stone successfully enters the re-entry commands in the Chinese capsule Shenzhou's computer, and Shenzhou begins its descent towards Earth. On the way down, Stone hears Mission Control over the radio tracking the capsule while rescue teams are being dispatched.
Shenzhou splashes down in a lake in an uninhabited part of the Earth. Stone opens the capsule hatch, but the water rushing in nearly drowns her, pinning her against the back wall. Once the water pressure equalizes, she swims out, but sinks with the weight of her spacesuit. She successfully slips out of her spacesuit and swims to the surface with the last of her breath. She swims to shore watching the remains of Tiangong and other satellite debris as they burn up high in the sky overhead. Stone pulls herself ashore with difficulty and takes her first shaky steps on dry land, gradually adjusting to the Earth's gravity. And the film ends there.
FINAL SCORE: 10/10
Gravity is masterful in all areas. The writing is stellar, the direction is superb, the visual effects are awe-inspiring, the 3D is great, the production design is breathtaking, the cinematography is beautiful, the music score by Steven Price is brilliant, and Sandra Bullock and George Clooney's performances are wonderful. This is sure to make everybody's top 10 of 2013 list, and it is guaranteed to be nominated for and win tons of Oscars and Golden Globes.