“’Speed’ in space”?: Sandra Bullock is a strong woman in peril in the darkest of darkest houses, the expanses of outer space and beyond. Alfonso Cuarón’s 3D IMAX thriller takes the most complicated means to tell the smallest story, the highest concept of pitches, and to make it seem graceful, inescapable and simple. “Life in space is impossible” reads one of the cards sprinkled at the start of “Gravity” and its epic opening shot that captures three astronauts on a spacewalk making repairs on the outside of the space shuttle. As with the movie’s many extended takes, Cuarón varies point-of-view, moves from epic panoramas to close in on his characters: the fluid result should keep all but the most aware from realizing that there hasn’t been a cut for over ten minutes. In a sense, “Gravity” is an animated film, as the illusion of the vastness of space and weightlessness wouldn’t be as lyrical without the intense construction behind the scenes. (It was a four-year project for Cuarón, whose last released feature was 2006’s “Children of Men.”) George Clooney plays a comic caricature of the flyboy rake, harking all the way back to “The Right Stuff.” (He does say, “It’s not rocket science” at one point.) But it’s Bullock’s movie, emotionally and physically forced through a series of transformations, of heroic (or merely life-sustaining?) actions, of symbolic rebirths. There are myriad small details and niceties placed in the frames, and other levels of imagery that may seem blunt to some (as will the emphatic score). But $90,000,000, a hundred, whatever they spent: this is a taut thriller built for audiences but also one of the most expensive experimental movies ever made. It’s a thrill ride, but also a work by a visual artist at the extremes of his acuity. Reviewed in digital 3D and IMAX 3D; the IMAX, is, as you’d expect, more engulfing. 89m. (Ray Pride)
“Gravity” opens Friday, October 4 in both 3D and IMAX 3D versions. Guess which one you might want to see?
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.