City Paper grade: B+
For months, partisans of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity have been lobbing claims that the movie, which nearly amounts to a real-time account of stranded astronaut Sandra Bullock’s attempt to return from orbit, represents a bold new frontier — a redefinition, even, of cinema’s possibilities. But it’s more accurate, if less starry-eyed, to say that it takes us back to the beginning, to the primal astonishment of seeing a locomotive rush by on the screen.
The difference is that there’s no locomotive, and, if you see the movie in IMAX 3D — sit close — there’s no screen. It’s as if the movie theater’s black and the vast darkness of space are part of a continuum, and when Bullock spins loose from a space shuttle pelted with hurtling satellite debris, Earth whizzes by over our heads as well. When she quips, early on, “Just keeping your lunch down is harder than it looks,” she’s not just speaking only for herself.
What plot Gravity has is pitched between elemental and crude: Bullock and fellow spacewalker George Clooney pin their hopes of survival on a nearby space station, and deal with some personal demons on the long, lonely trip over. But the lyricism of Cuarón’s filmmaking overwhelms the leaden clumsiness of his dialogue (co-written with son Jonás), which often functions simply as subtitles for the subtext-impaired. When Bullock floats in the safety of an airlock and the camera pulls back to focus on a single, weightless tear, words aren’t just superfluous but unwanted.
Steven Price’s Hans-Zimmer-meets-the-Queen-Mary score mistakes bombast for grandeur, and the moments when sensory overload gives way to clunky character-building are painful, but there’s legitimate awe in Cuarón’s approach to the cosmos. Gravity’s technical achievements are doubtless substantial, but they’re so seamless they become irrelevant: Eventually, you stop asking “How the hell did they do that?” and just accept that it’s done.
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