Wednesday, February 26, 2014

#1,290. Gravity (2013)

Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris

Tag line: "Don't Let Go"

Trivia: To prepare for shooting, Sandra Bullock spent six months in physical training

My favorite movie-going experience of 2013 was seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in 3-D. I was so utterly blown away by this motion picture that, the very next day, I went back to the theater, this time with my family in tow, to watch it again; the 3-D in Gravity was the best I’d ever seen, and something told me the best I would ever see, so I wanted my wife and kids to share in the experience. An emotional roller coaster that, at times, punches you square in the gut, Gravity was also one hell of a gorgeous movie, taking full advantage of 3-D technology to expose the vastness of space like few films had before.

When the Blu-Ray of Gravity arrived on my doorstep the other day, my excitement was tempered by a slight feeling of apprehension. I don’t own a 3-D television, and odds are I never will. So, right out of the gate, a key element of the film, and the one that impressed me the most, was removed from the equation. Also, as big as my TV is, it simply can’t compare to the giant screen at my local multiplex. Would Gravity in 2-D, playing at a much smaller “venue”, have the same impact?

The story goes something like this: Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is in space for the very first time, having caught a ride on the shuttle Explorer to install a new tracking device (which she herself invented) in the Hubble Telescope. But before her work is completed, an urgent message from ground control in Houston (voiced by Ed Harris) warns Explorer that debris from a destroyed Russian satellite is heading straight towards them, moving as fast as a bullet. What’s more, the debris has caused a chain reaction, taking out other satellites along the way and creating a debris field that grows larger by the second. With only minutes to react, mission commander Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) orders Stone back into Explorer so they can get out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, the astronauts have less time than they thought. Within moments, Explorer is struck by the debris, sending Stone, who was unable to separate from the mechanical arm holding her in place, spinning out of control, heading further and further away from the damaged ship. Kowalski does eventually retrieve her, but when the two arrive back at Explorer, they find the shuttle beyond repair and the rest of the crew dead. With only 90 minutes before the debris field comes back around, Stone (who’s very low on oxygen) and Kowalski must make their way to the International Space Station, which if they’re lucky is still intact. But even if they get there, will they find a ship that can return them to earth?

Right out of the box, this most recent viewing of Gravity threw me a curve. The opening moments of the film, where Stone is working on the Hubble while Kowalski floats around in space, using the jets built into his new-fangled spacesuit to guide him, looked phenomenal in 3-D, setting the stage for everything that would follow. Watching it on my modest home theater, in 2-D no less, this scene wasn’t the awe-inspiring experience I remembered. That said, the more intense sequences: the debris field striking the Explorer; Stone tumbling through space; her and Kowalski’s arrival at the International Space Station, all maintained their effectiveness, and were just as thrilling in two dimensions as they were in three. So, while the movie did lose something along the way (a simple teardrop can be pretty powerful when it’s floating towards you in 3-D), there’s still enough there to make Gravity worth your time.

You can argue that Alfonso Cuarón has made better movies than Gravity (Children of Men leaps immediately to mind), yet the overall experience this film provided, and the outstanding achievement it was in 3-D, make it one I won’t soon forget. When the Oscars are announced in a few days, I’m betting Gravity won’t capture the top award for Best Picture, but it would definitely be #1 on my ballot.

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