Gravity comes out this Friday, you guys, and I have to tell you, everything you’ve heard is true. It is absolutely, without a doubt, the best movie I have ever seen…as long as we’re comfortable including movies in that category that don’t have a script.
Now don’t get me wrong — there’s definitely dialogue. People talk back and forth to each other and words come out of their mouth and are strung together into sentences and everything. There’s just nothing about those sentences to suggest that they were written by anyone other than a robot. But hey. Maybe I should start at the beginning.
Gravity is a film starring Sandra Bullock as medical engineer Ryan Stone and George Clooney as astronaut Matt Kowalksi, both passengers of the same space craft who have to work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift (or ‘off-structure’) in space. From the first moment, space itself is the star of the movie. There are beautiful images of Earth, mind-bending shots of the astronauts working on the exterior of the craft that I have no idea how they got, and a deep, all-encompassing silence.
Whereas a lesser director might have been tempted to back cinematography this epic with a soaring soundtrack, Alfonso Cuarón is smart enough to let the vast emptiness of space do the work for him. Probably the most terrifying and thrilling thing about being up there is the loneliness of it. As the trailer warns, there’s no light and no sound up there, and giving those facts the respect they deserve is extremely effective. There are long stretches of silence interrupted only by the small sounds of people going about their daily life — boredom, reboots not working, and the quick short breaths of trying to settle your stomach from the nausea of being in space. Things that don’t immediately occur to you when you think about what it means to be in space.
The smartest thing that Cuarón does, is to take the time to set the scene like this, with space as just another work place. Until something goes wrong, life in space is the same thing as life anywhere else, with inconveniences both minor and major to contend with. Every sound and movement during this lull is well thought-out, and will come back to haunt you later…except for the goddamn script.
Everything else about the movie is expertly devised to make you feel things on an intense level, and if the script weren’t so distractingly wooden, this could have been the best movie I’d ever seen. But because it was given such a low priority after the cinematography and special effects, I kept getting pulled out of the intense action to roll my eyes at the dialogue.
I get why the script would be the last thing to be checked off of a list of requirements, because it’s clearly not the most important thing in a film like this. But when every other element is so meticulous and perfect, and you have Academy-Award winning actors available to carry your dialogue, I think it’s a really dangerous thing to have the film’s director also serve as its writer, which Alfonso Cuarón did in this case. You ended up with two extremely versatile performers who I felt were limited by the words they were given to say instead of expanded by them into living, breathing characters with whom I could empathize. And you know who could have helped out with that? A screenwriter.
But they didn’t use one, so we’re left with George Clooney’s character who is so obsessed with his own attractiveness that he brings it up approximately four times — on a space mission — and two astronauts who somehow don’t know each other after inhabiting the same craft for the entire period of time leading up to the accident. They’re, like, introducing themselves while they’re working outside the module before the first incident. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, which is logical, because directors are supposed to be skilled at creating believable moments on film, not on paper. But luckily for me, and for Alfonso Cuarón, they wrapped up all that pesky talking stuff pretty early on, and everyone got to focus on the part of the movie that they were all clearly more excited about — the action.
And seriously, it really is amazing. I don’t want to get into it, because every moment is effective and important for you to experience for yourself, but holy crap. It got great buzz at the Toronto Film Festival, and I personally left the theater feeling like I wanted to call all my friends and say, “You’ll never believe what happened to me in space just now.” It’s so incredibly effective that it begins to feel like your own experience. I felt like I held my breath for the entire ninety minutes, and I was impressed with myself for ‘surviving’ the entire time, even though all I did was sit in a seat in the theater. It’s that intense.
I can’t recommend it highly enough, I just wish they’d acknowledged the fact that a five-star director can’t necessarily write a five-star (or even a two-star) script. If it had been the teensiest bit better, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all, and I’d have been able to focus on the good stuff, the action. But I feel like maybe because they were so excited to get to that good stuff themselves, they cut some corners while laying the foundation for the film, and it ended up being an admittedly small disservice to a seriously amazing piece of work.